Donald Lambro

But in what came close to an early endorsement, Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, who managed Al Gore's 2000 campaign, said that, "If Barack runs, he should run to win the presidency and not run to defeat Hillary Clinton.

"Barack has something that is awfully missing today in American politics: the gift of charisma. Most people find him not just attractive, but politically viable. He has crossover appeal and the ability to attract moderates and independents," she told me.

But the Harvard-educated Obama has problems, too, specifically his tissue-paper-thin experience and a record of virtually no accomplishment. He has led no causes, fought no major legislative battles in the past two years he has been in the Senate, and seems to be deeply against getting into a principled fight about anything larger than himself.

"Indeed, Obama is that oddest of all creatures: a leader who's never led," writes liberal Democratic analyst Ezra Klein in the Los Angeles Times. "There are no courageous, lonely crusades to his name, or supremely unlikely electoral battles beneath his belt. He won election running basically unopposed, and then refused to open himself to attack by making a controversial but correct issue his own," Klein said.

But in the present political environment, with Hillary Clinton battling to overcome her own image problems as a deeply polarizing figure, Obama could be offering his party exactly what they want right now: an eloquent, ecumenical, youthful political star who excites the party's base and has the ability to reach out to cross-over constituencies.

He has said he is seriously considering his candidacy and will make his decision sometime next month and insiders now believe he will throw his hat in the ring.

His advisers think that no one has a lock on the nomination, not even Hillary who has yet to prove herself in presidential politics, and no one comes close to his oratorical powers to connect with audiences wherever he goes.

"The race is wide open here," New Hampshire Democratic vice chairman Ray Buckley told me. "Nobody has 30 percent and it can be anybody's victory."


Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.