Obama wades into 2008 White House race

By John Whitesides, Political Correspondent
Tuesday, January 16, 2007; 5:09 PM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democratic Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois jumped into the 2008 White House race on Tuesday, promising to "change our politics" with a campaign that could make him the first black president in U.S. history.

Obama, a freshman senator and rising party star, formed an exploratory committee to begin raising money and hiring staff to campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination to succeed Republican President George W. Bush.

He plans a formal campaign announcement in his home state of Illinois on February 10.

"Our leaders in Washington seem incapable of working together in a practical, common-sense way. Politics has become so bitter and partisan, so gummed up by money and influence, that we can't tackle the big problems that demand solutions," Obama said in a video message announcing his bid.

"We have to change our politics, and come together around our common interests and concerns as Americans," he said.

Obama, 45, is the fifth candidate in a Democratic White House field expected to be led by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York. Clinton has not said whether she will try to become the first woman president but has promised an announcement soon.

Obama's candidacy has stoked enthusiasm among Democrats looking for a fresh alternative to Clinton, who some fear could be too polarizing to win a general election campaign against a Republican next year.

While Clinton leads early polls of the Democratic field, Obama's standing has risen sharply in the last few months.

Obama, who gave the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic convention before he was elected to the U.S. Senate, appeared on a Time magazine cover and drew big crowds while campaigning for Democrats last fall.

His visit to the early primary state of New Hampshire in December drew sold-out crowds and more than 150 journalists.

But the first-term senator also has been dogged by questions about his lack of experience and about whether the United States is ready to elect a black to the White House.


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