Until Sen. Barack Obama burst onto the presidential scene in November, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton was the undisputed 2008 Democratic front-runner. As the cover of the new Newsweek underscores -- and brings center stage to mainstream media -- the contest for the White House starts with two Goliaths.
"The Race is On," declares the cover headline, with a picture of Obama and Clinton. What a political season we're heading into. New York vs. Chicago. The man from Hyde Park vs. the woman from Park Ridge. Can the first female win the presidency? Can the first African American? Are these ceilings glass or concrete?
Clinton is getting ready to jump into the White House race next year. Camp Clinton, I surmise from the people I've talked to, is not thrilled that the national media story line is developing as the battle of two titans because that makes the whole thing too personality driven.
Obama is trying not to provide grist for this debate.
Asked by Newsweek, "How do you match up against Clinton?" Obama said, "I'm not going to go there. I have tremendous respect for Hillary Clinton. She's an outstanding leader in the Democratic Party. She's earned her stripes."
'Decision by January'
Operation Obama is quiet for the first time since mid-August. After he returned from a multination African visit, he launched a national book tour, with the surge strong enough to prompt him to run for president. Obama has been on an almost constant media blitz for months, stopping at Iowa and New Hampshire, Oprah and Leno.
Obama was scheduled to leave this weekend for his native Hawaii. He's preparing to run and will make it official when he returns.
Obama told the Chicago Sun-Times editorial board last Thursday, "Obviously I have been getting a lot of attention of late around this presidential possibility, the possibility of running. I will be going on vacation for two weeks, play with my kids and will probably make a decision by January sometime."
A poll in the latest issue of Newsweek shows that just a little more than half of those surveyed think the nation is ready to elect a female or black president.
Clinton clearly starts out ahead. Democrats, asked whom they preferred for the nomination, said Clinton 50 percent to 32 percent for Obama, with 16 percent undecided and a five percentage-point margin of error.
The survey of 1,000 adults older than 18 was conducted Dec. 6 and 7 by Princeton Survey Research Associates and provides the first look at general election trial heats with Obama and Clinton.
Pitted against Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), making a second try for the GOP nomination, Clinton is ahead in the poll 50 percent to 43 percent. Clinton bests former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani 48 percent to 47 percent; against Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, it's 58 percent Clinton, 32 percent for Romney.
Axelrod in on N.Y. secrets
The results are almost reversed for Obama. McCain scores 45 percent to 43 percent for Obama in the poll; Giuliani 47 percent to 44 percent for Obama. Curiously, it's Obama 55 percent to 25 percent for Romney.
The Obama-Clinton rivalry redraws alliances.
Clinton's campaign manager will be Patty Solis Doyle, raised in Pilsen, the sister of Ald. Danny Solis (25th). Newsweek reports Bill Daley, President Bill Clinton's former commerce secretary, will advise Obama.
Obama's media consultant, David Axelrod, is based in Chicago, but his New York roots -- and his Empire State client list -- make him a native in the New York papers. It's sort of the flip of how Clinton is regarded here -- as a local, born at 5722 N. Winthrop, raised in Park Ridge.
In Chicago, Axelrod is known as the strategist behind Mayor Daley, Rep. Rahm Emanuel, House candidate Tammy Duckworth and Obama, whom he has been with since his 2004 Senate campaign.
The Sunday New York Post said Axelrod "knows the secrets of New York's political machine -- inside information that could haunt likely White House rival Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton" who "knows Hillaryland from the inside" because he worked for the New York Democratic Party helping elect Clinton to the Senate in 2000.
Axelrod "has had a hand in nearly every major New York election in recent years," the Post said. "He crafted the media message Eliot Spitzer rode to the attorney general's office, and he cut the TV ads this year that helped Andrew Cuomo succeed Spitzer."
And the New York Times Magazine is working on an Axelrod profile.
On Saturday, Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) dropped his presidential quest. Maybe there were "too many Goliaths," he said, not referring to Obama or Clinton by name. Or "I'm just not the right David."