Obama: Riding the wave

Monday night, on the eve of his book tour, Sen. Barack Obama was feted by some of his closest friends and supporters.

Just a few blocks from his own house, the reception was at the Kenwood home of Barbara and Jim Bowman, the parents of Valerie Jarrett, who until recently was the treasurer of HOPEFUND, Obama’s national political action committee.

The guests — people who were there at the beginning of his 2004 Senate bid and some of his best donors, even comedian Bernie Mack — were given copies of The Audacity of Hope that Obama already autographed.

The invitation was sent out on behalf of Obama 2010, the war chest for Obama’s Senate re-election campaign — presuming, that is, if he is not elected president or vice president in 2008, a prospect that was the buzz at the party and increasingly in political circles.

The torrent of publicity surrounding the publication of Obama’s second book has triggered even more speculation about Obama’s White House ambitions. A smart salesman, Obama has no reason in the world to dampen the book-selling hype.

A friend in Seattle called me Tuesday to report that the line was two blocks long for tickets for Obama’s book tour visit there next week. There are no tickets left for Obama’s Friday appearance at the Kennedy Library in Boston, where he will be interviewed by New York Times columnist Bob Herbert.

Obama, after a workout at the East Bank Club on Tuesday, filled the pews for a book chat at the Methodist church in the Loop, the last of three public stops on Day One of the book launch.

Oprah on Wednesday. Larry King tonight. Tim Russert on Sunday.

After the November election, Obama will become more serious about looking at 2008.

Sen. Dick Durbin has emerged as one of the more vocal Obama boosters, getting more enthusiastic about the prospect of Obama vaulting ahead of a line of their Senate Democratic colleagues mulling a 2008 presidential bid:

The list includes Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, Evan Bayh of Indiana, Joe Biden of Delaware, Chris Dodd of Connecticut, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and John Kerry of Massachusetts, the 2004 nominee. Others testing the water are former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and former Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota.

Durbin on Monday said he hopes Obama “seriously considers” a 2008 bid.

There is a shift in how the Obama camp is framing his future. It is a subtle advancement — the “what do you think” stage. Obama, the subject of many profiles booked in order to whip up interest in the book, knows dropping some vague quotes hinting about some presidential interest guarantees play for the story.

In January, I wrote that Obama was interested in the White House — for 2012, not 2008. I’m updating my prognosis. If the Obama trajectory continues, at the least, Obama will be asked to join the Democratic 2008 ticket as a vice presidential contender — if the nominee is not Clinton. This country may not be ready to break two unfortunate barriers at once, gender and race.

At the most, with a few breaks, Obama could be in a position to be the nominee — if Clinton melts down, former Vice President Al Gore stays out, and all of the names mentioned above never take off. Former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner withdrew last week.

Obama’s inexperience is being seen as less and less of a liability. He won’t have a series of Senate votes to hold against him. He won’t be caught in the Kerry trap of explaining why he was for something before he was against it. After more than a year in the Senate, Obama is not identified as the solo owner of an issue. He is very untested. He has never even had a tough, adversarial press conference.

If the Democrats win the Senate, he’ll be expected to produce more — not just star on the fund-raising and get-out-the-vote circuit. Why wait? Obama’s stock has never been higher.

Obama can control a lot. But there is more of a realization now from his side that you can’t time timing.

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