WASHINGTON -- Sen. Barack Obama jumped in the race for the White House on Tuesday, in a historic bid to be the nation's first black president.
Obama, 45, is the youngest contender so far in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary. The candidacy of the charismatic freshman Illinois senator brings a message of generational change. He will run as an outsider calling for a transformation of the nation's politics. He starts as a front-runner, along with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.
"The decisions that have been made in Washington these past six years, and the problems that have been ignored, have put our country in a precarious place," Obama said in statement. He taped a video version of his rationale for running Saturday in Chicago and posted it on his Web site Tuesday.
On Tuesday Obama filed papers creating an exploratory campaign, which he needed to do to legally start raising and spending money, and made a series of calls looking for political and financial support.
In a conference call with some of his best fund-raisers Tuesday, Obama said he could need to raise between $65 million and $70 million for the primary season -- a year away -- and set a goal of raising $500,000 on his first day in the race.
On Feb. 10, Obama will make a public pronouncement of candidacy in Springfield, where he started his political career as a state senator. That same day he will campaign in Iowa, home of the crucial first-in-the-nation presidential caucus vote.
A kickoff in the Illinois capital will serve to marry the Obama political narrative with that of Springfield's Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln, like Obama, was a member of the Illinois General Assembly, before his election to Congress and then the White House. Like Obama, Lincoln didn't have much experience before becoming president and leading the nation through a turbulent era. Obama, the son of a Kenyan father, will kick off his quest at or near the home of the man who freed the African slaves.
Facing new scrutiny
That Lincoln was a Republican will only underscore one of Obama's refrains: The great issues facing the U.S., such as the Iraq war, are not Republican or Democratic problems, but American problems.
Obama, who has enjoyed almost constant favorable publicity since winning his Illinois Senate primary campaign in March 2004 -- with the exception a public apology for a real estate deal involving the now indicted Tony Rezko -- enters a new phase with his candidacy.
"He will face a great deal more scrutiny than he ever faced before," said Donna Brazile, who managed Al Gore's 2000 White House race. "We have a credible contender who happens to be a minority and that's refreshing," she added.
William Daley, who was chairman of Gore's campaign and is now an Obama supporter, said what lies ahead for the Illinois Democrat "is uncharted waters." With a year until the first primary vote, Daley said by January, Obama "will be a seasoned candidate."
Lanny Davis, a Hillary Clinton backer who served in the Clinton White House, said Obama and the New York senator are "both instinctively centrists who realize the Democratic party has to win red states as well as blue states to be a truly national party."
The surge of popularity Obama hopes to ride to the White House started building in September, after he returned from an African visit. A national tour to promote his book, The Audacity of Hope, was followed by campaigning for Democrats on the November ballot. That created the tidal wave that focused Obama on moving up his timetable and running for president in 2008.
Obama will spend the next three weeks organizing a national political organization with central roles played by Chicago media consultant David Axelrod and his partner David Plouffe, who will manage the campaign.