02-19-2017  6:16 pm      •     


SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- The pomp and circumstance of the presidential announcement is over for U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, and now it's on to the real work.

After announcing his run for the White House Saturday in Illinois' capital city, Obama headed to Iowa where observers say he's wise to start laying the groundwork for that state's leadoff caucuses.

He goes from there to his hometown of Chicago for a rally and fundraiser -- where he's sure to pick up some much-needed campaign dough -- before heading to New Hampshire, which traditionally has the nation's first primary.

"The more face time you get in Iowa the sooner, the better -- and the same in New Hampshire,'' said James Nowlan, a senior fellow at the University of Illinois' Institute of Government and Public Affairs.

It's a hectic pace in Obama's brand new campaign that will only get more harried in a crowded field of candidates for the Democratic nomination that includes Sen. Hillary Clinton and former vice presidential candidate John Edwards.

"This is the first step in a long, long journey,'' said Obama political strategist David Axelrod. "The most important thing he needs to do is let people get to know him more than they know him now, understand what his life has been about, understand what his history has been.''

Obama, elected to the U.S. Senate in 2004, shot up the political celebrity ladder that year after delivering a major speech at the Democratic National Convention. He has also gained fame as the author of two best-selling books and the subject of magazine covers and TV shows.

His campaign kicked off Saturday in Illinois' capital city of Springfield, where police estimated between 15,000 and 17,000 people came to watch Obama begin a race that could make him the first Black president.

By going to Iowa first, Obama is signaling to the movers and shakers there that he wants their help building the networks that make success in their caucuses possible.

"You have to start building on the ground in Iowa early,'' said Daniel Galvin, an assistant professor of political science at Northwestern University.

Galvin said it's savvy of Obama to tuck in a visit to Chicago in between stumping in those two other key states.

"He has to tip his cap to Chicago,'' Galvin said.

-- The Associated Press

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  • WASHINGTON (AP) — One month after the inauguration, the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of Donald Trump's White House still is a hard-hat zone. Skeletal remains of the inaugural reviewing stands poke skyward. Random piles of plywood and cables are heaped on the ground inside crooked lines of metal fencing. The disarray outside the president's front door, though not his fault, serves as a metaphor for the tumult still unfolding inside. Four weeks in, the man who says he inherited "a mess" at home and abroad is presiding over a White House that is widely described as itself being a mess. At a stunning pace, Trump has riled world leaders and frustrated allies. He was dealt a bruising legal blow on one of his signature policies. He lost his national security adviser and his pick for labor secretary to scandal. He's seen forces within his government push back against his policies and leak confidential information. 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At some point in the day, count on Trump to cast back to the marvels of his upset of Democrat Hillary Clinton in the November election and quite possibly overstate his margins of support. Expect more denunciations of the "dishonest" press and its "fake news." From there, things can veer in unexpected directions as Trump offers up policy pronouncements or offhand remarks that leave even White House aides struggling to interpret them. The long-standing U.S. policy of seeking a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Trump this past week offered this cryptic pronouncement: "I'm looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I can live with either one." His U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, the next day insisted, "We absolutely support a two-state solution." Trump's days are busy. Outside groups troop in for "listening sessions." Foreign leaders call or come to visit. (Or, in the case of Mexico's president, cancel out in pique over Trump's talk about the planned border wall.) After the president signed two dozen executive actions, the White House was awaiting a rush order of more of the gold-plated Cross pens that Trump prefers to the chrome-plated ones used by his predecessor. Trump hands them out as souvenirs at the signing ceremonies that he points to as evidence of his ambitious pace. "This last month has represented an unprecedented degree of action on behalf of the great citizens of our country," Trump said at a Thursday news conference. "Again, I say it. There has never been a presidency that's done so much in such a short period of time." That's all music to the ears of his followers, who sent him to Washington to upend the established order and play the role of disrupter. "I can't believe there's actually a politician doing what he says he would do," says an approving Scott Hiltgen, a 66-year-old office furniture sales broker from River Falls, Wisconsin. "That never happens." Disrupt Trump has. But there may be more sound and fury than substance to many of his early actions. Trump did select Judge Neil Gorsuch to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, a nomination that has drawn strong reviews from conservatives. But the president is regrouping on immigration after federal judges blocked his order to suspend the United States' refugee program and ban visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries, which had caused chaos for travelers around the globe. Some other orders on issues such as the U.S.-Mexico border wall and former President Barack Obama's health care law are of limited effect. Trump says his early actions show he means to deliver on the promises he made during the campaign. 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Trump shouldn't mistake the fact that some of his supporters like his style with the fact that a lot of Republicans just want the policies he promised them. He has to deliver that." Put Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in the camp of those more interested in substance than style. "I'm not a great fan of daily tweets," McConnell said Friday, referring to the "extra discussion" that Trump likes to engage in. But McConnell was quick to add: "What I am a fan of is what he's been actually doing." He credits Trump with assembling a conservative Cabinet and taking steps to reduce government regulation, and promised: "We like his positions and we're going to pursue them as vigorously as we can." The challenge may be to tease out exactly what Trump wants in the way of a health care plan, tax changes and trade policy. 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