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Obama vs. Clinton -- A Primary Fight for the Ages?

Well, well, well.

Barack Obama
Barack Obama would merit "co-frontrunner" status with Sen. Hillary Clinton should he decide to run for the White House in 2008. (Reuters/Alex Wong/Meet the Press)

Sunday's big political news wasn't too much of a surprise to The Fix, which has long argued that Sen. Barack Obama was seriously considering a run for president in 2008. At long last yesterday, Obama acknowledged that interest publicly.

In an interview on "Meet the Press" to promote the release of his new book, "The Audacity of Hope," Obama said that "given the responses that I've been getting over the last several months, I have thought about the possibility" of a presidential bid.

He said that he would not seriously consider or decide on the race until after the midterm elections. "I would say that I am still at the point where I have not made a decision to, to pursue higher office, but it is true that I have thought about it over the last several months," he said.

Obama's public pronouncement drew massive media coverage -- including a several-minute segment on NBC News's Sunday night installment -- but political junkies and Beltway insiders shouldn't have been caught off guard.

More than a month ago, it became clear that Obama's previous denials about the 2008 race were no longer operative. During his first visit to Iowa last month, Obama had veteran party operative Steve Hildebrand at his side. Hildebrand managed Al Gore's 2000 Iowa caucus campaign and is one of the most coveted operatives when it comes to recruiting 2008 staff.

Hildebrand is one of a number of operatives with ties to former Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) who appear to be advising Obama. Obama's chief of staff -- Pete Rouse -- was Daschle's chief of staff until the South Dakota Democrat's loss in 2004. Robert Gibbs, Obama's communications director, played a similar role at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, an organization largely run by Daschle's operation, during the 2002 cycle. Daschle senior adviser Anita Dunn is currently running Obama's Hopefund PAC, although both Dunn and the Obama operation insist it is a temporary assignment. (Dunn, a media consultant with the firm Squier Knapp Dunn, is a member of Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh's 2008 inner circle.)

Other members of an Obama 2008 inner circle are likely to include media consultant David Axelrod and pollster Paul Harstad -- both of whom worked on the senator's 2004 campaign. One person to keep an eye on is Jim Jordan, campaign manager for much of John Kerry's '04 presidential primary bid. Jordan, who has strong ties to many people in the Obama world, was aligned with former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner who announced he would not run in 2008 earlier this month.

Should Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton both enter the race, it would likely turn the nominating contest into a two-person affair. Kerry, Bayh and former Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) would all still likely run, but it's hard to imagine any of them gaining much traction in a primary battle between two such high-profile figures .

Obama would quickly win over the liberal left -- especially those most strongly opposed to the war in Iraq. As an African American, Obama would also complicate Clinton's strength in the black community, a major constituency in the primaries. Clinton would be forced to run to Obama's ideological right, casting herself as a bridge-builder a la Bill Clinton in 1992.

Until Obama decides on his political future, Clinton remains a strong favorite in the current field. If the Illinois senator runs, however, he would have to be considered a co-frontrunner.

Earlier this year, we made the case for and against an Obama bid.

By Chris Cillizza  |  October 23, 2006; 8:20 AM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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