Sweet column: Obama, Clinton Edwards ’08 rivals plead for chance to be heard. “Stay loose,” Richardson asks.

SHARE Sweet column: Obama, Clinton Edwards ’08 rivals plead for chance to be heard. “Stay loose,” Richardson asks.
SHARE Sweet column: Obama, Clinton Edwards ’08 rivals plead for chance to be heard. “Stay loose,” Richardson asks.

WASHINGTON–On Saturday, Barack Obama “officially” kicks off his presidential quest in Springfield, followed by visits to Iowa and New Hampshire punctuated in between by a Chicago fund-raiser.

But, short of the formality and hullabaloo of an announcement in the city where Abraham Lincoln once lived, Obama is already in presidential campaign mode, with a theme that can be summed up in one word: “Hope.”

Obama barnstormed Friday before party activists at the Democratic National Committee winter meeting, with students at a packed rally in northern Virginia, then with donors at a New York dinner hosted by James Torrey, chairman of a global hedge fund.

Meanwhile, newly hired Obama staffers are house-hunting in Chicago, with the Illinois senator’s national headquarters to be located, as scooped in my blog, at 233 N. Michigan.

The leadoff presidential votes are not until next January, and Obama, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards are starting ahead.

Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) pleaded with the DNC audience not to let the contest prematurely become a two- or three-person race.

It will be very tough.

“Give me a chance to be heard,” Dodd said.

“Stay loose! We’ve got a year to go. Watch us on the trail,” urged New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson on Saturday, highlighting his strong domestic and international experience.

Other Friday speakers were Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) and retired Gen. Wesley Clark.

Saturday speakers included former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel, Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack and Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.), who seeks to rescue the bungled launch of his bid.

Biden spent Wednesday backpedaling after saying Obama is “the first mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean.”

Biden said near the top of his speech, “I want to say that I truly regret that the words I spoke offended people that I admire very much.”

Obama warned his rivals and the media against infecting the electorate with cynicism, while Clinton emphasized her qualifications and track record in tangling with Republicans.

“It’s going to be cynicism that we’re fighting against,” Obama said. “It’s the cynicism that’s born from decades of disappointment, amplified by talk radio and 24-hour news cycle, reinforced by the relentless pounding of negative ads that have become the staple of modern politics.”

‘People are better than that’

Obama also tried to dilute the weakness on his resume — his lack of experience — by offering instead “hope,” a word he used eight times in his speech.

“There are those who don’t believe in talking about hope. They say, well, we want specifics, we want details, we want white papers, we want plans. We’ve had a lot of plans, Democrats. What we’ve had is a shortage of hope.”

Later, in a packed hall on the campus of George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., Obama found himself mobbed as he was leaving, and security personnel aggressively pushed back the crush of people.

Edwards, at the DNC meeting, also appealed to the notion of a greater society.

“We are not the country that we saw at the Superdome after Katrina hit New Orleans. We are not the country of Abu Ghraib. We are not the country of Guantanamo. We are not the country of government behind closed doors. We are not the country of a government that spies on its own people. The United States of America is better than that. Our people are better than that.”

It was left to Clinton to deliver the dose of political reality, looking ahead to the general election. Said Clinton: “I know how they think, how they act and how to defeat them, and if you give me the chance, that’s exactly what we will do together in 2008.”

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