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Ladies and gentleman: We have our anti-Hillary.
The press corps has spent the last year or so speculating about – and building buzz for – possible 2008 Democratic presidential candidates who are not named Hillary Clinton. It looked for a while like Former Virginia Governor Mark Warner would take the anti-Hillary role, something that would both satisfy a press corps eager for a storyline and party activists worried Clinton couldn't win. The New York Times Magazine even gave Warner, who is little known nationally, its cover in March.
But then Warner said he wouldn't run, and the press corps turned to Barak Obama, the freshman Illinois Senator who gave 2004 Democratic National Convention keynote address. Obama has less than two years experience in the Senate, and he had insisted he had no plans to run for president – until yesterday. Appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press," Obama said he will "consider" running after the midterm elections.
What changed his mind? In part, the evolving political landscape – it's hard to imagine Obama making the jump with Warner in the race. But he's also well aware of the boost he's gotten from the press. Obama is presently the most talked about first-term Senator in the land, with the exception of a certain former first lady. He has landed on the cover of Time magazine ("Why Barack Obama Could Be The Next President") and has been featured in countless other media outlets, from the Washington Post to Men's Vogue. This morning, CBSNews.com put his "Meet the Press" comments among its top stories.
Media critic Howard Kurtz has characterized press coverage of Obama as "unbelievable puffy." He asked on CNN's "Reliable Sources": "[W]hy are journalists…practically trying to draft the guy into a presidential race when he's been a senator for just under two years?"
The answer to that question is complex – it has to do with Obama's genuine likeability, his largely unblemished resume which offers few negatives outside his relative lack of experience, and the press' aforementioned need for a nifty storyline. It also might have something to do with a desire amongst the press corps for a viable black presidential candidate. The last time we saw the press pushing a candidate to this degree was prior to the 1996 election, when Colin Powell flirted with running.
Something of a backlash has already begun – including in the pages of the New York Times, where Bob Herbert is cautioning against Obamamania. And there is also talk that Obama is leveraging all the attention for other reasons – everything from book sales to a chance at a vice presidential slot. We'll see how it plays out, but Obama has certainly been living a charmed political life so far – his opponents in his Senate primary and the general election stumbled thanks to personal issues, his party gave him a prime opportunity to make a national name for himself at its 2004 convention, and the media seems to have (for the most part) fallen in love with him. (And so has Oprah!) It's perhaps no surprise he's thinking about running sooner rather than later – in American politics, the only thing harder than generating Obama-level buzz is sustaining it.