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On 'Monday Night Football,' An Announcement From Obama

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By Zachary A. Goldfarb
Sunday, December 17, 2006

For first-term Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) to get the avalanche of media attention he did while addressing New Hampshire Democrats a week ago was impressive. To appear the following night on "Monday Night Football" was even more so.

Obama's hometown Chicago Bears were playing the St. Louis Rams. The game was being watched in 8.5 million homes, and Obama, widely seen at this early stage as a potential top competitor to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) for the Democratic presidential nomination, had all the viewers to himself.

Over the years, the show has had public figures make cameos on the nights of big games.

"We try to find a unique way to open our telecast, and certainly with Senator Obama representing Illinois and Chicago and being so hot, so to speak, we thought it would be a great opportunity," said Jay Rothman, the show's producer.

About a week and a half before the spot appeared, an ESPN producer called Obama's office to see if he would take part. At first, ESPN suggested doing it in the form of a mock political advertisement. But Jon Favreau, the senator's speechwriter, knew the spotlight would be on his boss's possible ambitions in the days after Obama's New Hampshire speech. So Favreau suggested rewriting the script to play off the speculation.

On Monday afternoon, Obama's communications staff sent out a tantalizing advisory that Obama would make an announcement "about an upcoming contest of great importance to the American people."

As that night's broadcast got underway, the camera focused on Obama sitting at his desk in his Washington office. "I'm here tonight to answer some questions about a very important contest that's been weighing on the minds of the American people," he began. "A contest about the future . . . a contest that will ultimately be decided in America's heartland.

"Tonight, I'd like to put all the doubts to rest. I'd like to announce to my hometown of Chicago and all of America that I am ready" -- and he paused to put on a Chicago cap -- "for the Bears to go all the way, baby."

They did. The question now is, will he?

Much to Learn About '08 Field

Last week, a Washington Post-ABC News poll showed that Clinton and former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani (R) hold early leads over potential rivals for their parties' 2008 presidential nominations.

But the poll also showed that voters still have a lot to learn about the potential candidates. More people, for example, knew about Clinton's views than about those of other would-be contenders. Yet a majority of those interviewed said they knew little or nothing about her positions.

As for Giuliani, nearly three-quarters of the people said they don't know much about his views. Some observers have wondered whether GOP support for Giuliani would decline once conservatives learned about his liberal leanings on such social issues as gay rights and abortion. In the poll, just 36 percent of self-described conservatives said they knew a lot about his views.


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