Bottom line: I think Sen. Barack Obama, who is seriously considering a run for president, is going to jump into the 2008 race. I predict the freshman Illinois Democrat will announce near the end of this year or the beginning of 2007, sometime after he returns from a holiday break in his native Hawaii. Here's what's on Obama's to-do list:
• • Build a national political organization, probably based in Chicago.
Obama's inner circle will grow and diversify. He will need to develop a cohesive and efficient staff. Chief potential rival Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) has a deep bench of battle-tested loyalists. Clinton, a veteran of her husband's 1992 and 1996 presidential contests has vast experience running national campaigns.
The core Obama players -- all experienced in national political strategy -- are Chicago media consultant David Axelrod and, in Washington, David Plouffe, an Axelrod partner; communications chief Robert Gibbs; chief of staff Pete Rouse, and Hopefund political director Alyssa Mastromonaco.
Obama's team has talked to potential staffers but has made no offers, Axelrod told me. They have plenty of time to put together a good campaign, even though others have a head start.
• • Raise money, money, money.
Obama will need to raise tens of millions of dollars in the first quarter of 2007. Even though he will have ambitious plans to cull small donors via the Internet, to get that type of money means cultivating the nation's top Democratic money people. He will need to lock up the Democratic fund-raising elite, some of whom are now conflicted because of longtime ties to Clinton. The Bill and Hillary money networks are legendary.
Obama already has tapped into these networks for money channeled to other candidates. Now he will be asking for himself. One way it's done is by high-level networking. On Monday, Obama will be in New York -- Clinton territory -- to keynote an event for a charity called KIDS -- Kids in Distressed Situations.
Obama gets thousands of invitations to speak, so the engagements he accepts and the calls he takes are telling. KIDS president Janice Weinman Shorenstein told me she talked to Obama to headline this event. She is a mid-level Democratic donor whose important circle of family and friends includes some of the nation's biggest Democrat contributors.
• • Maintain an Obama-Clinton relationship.
I saw the movie "Bobby" last week and hearing snippets of Bobby Kennedy's speeches gave me an insight into why Obama clicks with so many people: Like Kennedy, he offers hope for a better future. An Obama candidacy may suck the oxygen from the second-tier Democratic field.
Obama's calculations don't depend on whether or not Clinton or anyone else is in the race. But Clinton's primary calculus is affected by Obama. Obama's entry expands her field of play and cuts into her claim for minority votes.
For example, without Obama in the March 2008 Illinois primary, Illinois Democrats would treat Clinton like the native daughter she is and elect her delegates. With Obama in, she would have to devote precious time and resources to Illinois. Obama and Clinton get along. They respect each other. They both will be working the same Democratic money belts in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. The big difference between them is Iraq; Obama campaigned in 2004 against the war while Clinton voted for it.
• • Solidify and maximize the black vote.
Obama will have a running start winning black voters who are a core Democratic primary constituency.
• • Develop signature legislative initiatives.
Once the Democrats control Congress come January, there's a chance to pass legislation. Watch for Obama to focus on alternative energy measures, health care and ethics reform legislation that stalled earlier this year.
• • Decide whether to be a player in revamping the Democratic primary calendar.
This is a Democratic insider debate which may have ramifications on who is the eventual nominee. The Democratic National Committee has a commission, due to report in December, studying whether to rejigger the primary calendar.
At present, voters in Iowa and New Hampshire -- where Obama debuts on Dec. 10 -- have great influence in determining the nominee. Other states, Michigan for one, want to get in the fray. Adding states to the early primary calendar would help candidates with the best name recognition and resources.
"We are aware of the possibilities," Axelrod said.
• • Finish this sentence. "I want to be president because . . ."