WASHINGTON — For all those historians and political naysayers, Sen. Barack Obama's allies like to point out that Abraham Lincoln served just two years in the House before becoming president.
It's a comparison certain to be repeated as Obama, with slightly more than two years in the Senate, continues to align himself with the Civil War president. The senator's expected campaign kickoff is scheduled for Feb. 10 in Lincoln's hometown of Springfield, Ill. — where both men served in the state Legislature.
Obama filed paperwork for a presidential exploratory committee Tuesday, which allows him to raise money and organize a campaign structure before his formal announcement. He also talked about his plans in a video on his Web site.
If elected, he would be an obvious subject for the history books — the first Black president.
Obama often has touched on the parallels to Lincoln, writing about the 16th president, and in April 2005, at the opening of the Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, saying: "Lincoln reminds us that our essential greatness is not the shadow of sophistication or popularity, or wealth or power or fleeting celebrity. It is the tree that stands in the face of our doubts and fears and bigotries and insists we can do better."
On Tuesday, Obama said the past six years have left the country in a precarious place and he promoted himself as the standard-bearer for a new kind of politics.
"Our leaders in Washington seem incapable of working together in a practical, commonsense way," Obama said in a video posted on his Web site. "Politics has become so bitter and partisan, so gummed up by money and influence, that we can't tackle the big problems that demand solutions. And that's what we have to change first."
Obama's soft-spoken appeal on the stump, his unique background, his opposition to the Iraq war and his fresh face set him apart in a competitive race that also is expected to include front-runner Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.
In a brief interview on Capitol Hill, Obama said the reaction to his announcement has been positive and added, "We wouldn't have gone forward this far if it hadn't been this positive."
Obama has uncommon political talents, drawing adoring crowds even among the studious voters in New Hampshire during a much-hyped visit there last month. His star has risen on the force of his personality and message of hope — helped along by celebrity endorsements from the likes of Oprah Winfrey, billionaire investor Warren Buffett and actors Matt Damon and Edward Norton.
"I certainly didn't expect to find myself in this position a year ago," said Obama, who added that as he talked to Americans about a possible presidential campaign, "I've been struck by how hungry we all are for a different kind of politics."
The 45-year-old has few accomplishments on the national stage after serving little more than two years in the Senate. But at a time when many voters say they are unhappy with the direction of the country, a lack of experience in the nation's capital may not be a liability.
"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.
He said people are struggling financially, dependence on foreign oil threatens the environment and national security and "we're still mired in a tragic and costly war that should have never been waged."
Clinton is expected to announce her presidential campaign within days, but her spokesman said there would be no comment on Obama's decision from the Clinton camp. Back from Iraq, she abruptly canceled a Capitol Hill news conference minutes after word of Obama's announcement, citing the unavailability of a New York congressman to participate.
Other Democrats who have announced a campaign or exploratory committee are 2004 vice presidential nominee John Edwards, former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd and Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich. Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Joe Biden of Delaware and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson also are considering a run.
Obama's decision was relatively low-key after months of hype, with no speech or media appearance to accompany his online announcement. He said he will discuss a presidential campaign with people around the country before his Feb. 10 event, and he wasted no time calling key activists Tuesday.
New Hampshire lobbyist Jim Demers talked with Obama for about five minutes. "He is extremely pumped and excited that this campaign is coming together," said Demers, who accompanied Obama on his visit to the state last month.