Imagine jumping from manager of a Gap store to running the entire company in just four years. Or graduating from guitar tech to lead singer in a huge rock band in the time between the band's first and second album.
That's the best way to describe the meteoric rise of Illinois Senator Barack Obama, the Democratic star who has blasted off from a seat in the Illinois Legislature two years ago to the U.S. Senate and now to a possible bid for the White House.
The charismatic Obama, who has been fighting off questions about a presidential run since he first moved into his Senate office in 2004, came as close as he ever has over the weekend to saying that he's considering a run in 2008. A Sunday interview on "Meet the Press" could set up a potentially explosive race that could pit him against fellow undeclared Democratic Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.
After watching a clip from an appearance on host Tim Russert's show in January in which Obama said he would serve out the full six years of his Senate term — which ends in 2010 — the senator was asked again if he would consider a run for president. "That's how I was thinking at that time, and I don't want to be coy about this. ... Given the responses I've been getting over the last several months, I have thought about the possibility, but I have not thought about it with the seriousness and depth that I think is required," Obama said. Following the upcoming midterm election on November 7, the senator said he would "sit down and consider it."
Obama has been on a press tour for the past week promoting his second book, "The Audacity of Hope," and has been facing the inevitable question about his potential run at every stop.
The politician burst onto the national scene in 2004 when he gave the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention. The speech almost overshadowed the address from Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. Since that appearance, the Chicago Tribune reported that Obama has turned into one of the party's biggest fundraisers, most popular speakers and most charismatic figures.
Before being elected to his first term in Congress in 2004, Obama, 45 — a graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School — spent seven years in the Illinois Senate. The son of a black Kenyan father and a white mother form Wichita, Kansas, Obama was raised by his mother following his parents' divorce when he was 2 years old and lived in Indonesia for a time as a youth with his mother and her second husband.
After graduating from Columbia, Obama went to work at a nonprofit church-run job-training program in an impoverished Chicago neighborhood before enrolling at Harvard Law School and becoming the first black president of the Harvard Law Review. He earned a reputation for working with both Democrats and Republicans while in the Illinois Senate, helping to write bills providing earned income tax credits for the poor and increasing funding for AIDS prevention and care.
Assuming he does run for president, Obama would have just a bit less experience than another charismatic Democrat who some people said had not logged enough time in public office: John F. Kennedy. "[The lack of public service] is definitely one of the major disadvantages he will face," said Scott Winship, managing editor and chief blogger of the recently launched online magazine Democratic Strategist. Obama would also have just a shade less political experience than President Bush, who, after a failed run for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1978, served as governor of Texas for five years (1995-2000) before becoming the nation's 43rd president.
Obama's lack of foreign-policy experience could also be a major rallying point for his opponents given the likelihood that the U.S. will still be dealing with the Iraq war and nuclear issues with Iran and North Korea.
"But he has charisma and he is certainly a rock star in the political world," Winship said. "Beginning with that speech at the DNC a few years ago and his inspirational speaking and inspiring personal story. There's a unique potential for him to unite the more liberal netroots/blogger community with the more moderate side of the Democratic party, and there's not many candidates who can do that."
Also working to his advantage, according to Winship, is Obama's strong religious background, which could pick off some of the evangelical voters who have become a core part of the Republican constituency.
Meanwhile, Senator Clinton was asked over the weekend if she would repeat her pledge to serve her full six-year Senate term, which would rule out a presidential run in 2008, and she declined. "I can't make a decision now," she said about running for president, according to ABC News. "I have made no decision. But if that concerns any voter, they should factor that into the vote they make."
Complicating matters, Kerry said over the weekend that he, too, is thinking of running, telling ABC's George Stephanopoulos of Obama, "If he thinks he's ready to run for president and wants to run, and I've made a decision, we'll go out there and have a great contest."
The upcoming election is the first since 1928 that most likely won't feature a run by a sitting president or vice president. Winship said he thinks Obama could stand a chance against Clinton and could even potentially convince the former first lady to abandon her quest if she decides they would both be going after the same voters.