Just a week after declaring he would form an exploratory committee, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois faces the litmus test of his presidential hopes. Long before the first primary vote is cast in the snowy towns and hamlets of New Hampshire next year, Obama needs to stay competitive in a primary possibly more important than the one for electoral votes: The "media, momentum and money" primary, or in short, "the M3 primary". All three are intertwined, as Senator John Kerry's sudden string of victories in the 2004 Democratic primaries proved.
So, where does Senator Obama stand? It does not seem too bad, but there is work to be done before his juggernaut translates into primary victories. ABC, as part of the positive coverage of Hillary Clinton's entry, published the figures of a national poll in which Hillary Clinton leads Obama 41-17, a 24 percent margin.
So far, so good. However, it is important to mention that (contrary to conventional wisdom), national polls at this stage are, frankly, worthless. Why? Because, in perfectly simple terms, we have state primaries, rather than one national primary. If there is one poll that one can trust, it’s the numbers coming out of Iowa and New Hampshire. In Iowa, he currently places second behind John Edwards, with Hillary Clinton merely fourth behind Iowa's former Governor Tom Vilsack. In New Hampshire, Obama had a lead over Clinton of four percentage points. Hence, the stratospheric national numbers must be taken with a big pinch of salt.
Also, Obama has the ability to capitalize on the electorate being tired of "politics as usual", Republican and Democrat. His best shot at winning the nomination would be to portray himself as the harbinger of real change, an approach that was visible in his announcement that he would form an exploratory committee.
He could also attempt to contrast himself with Hillary, affirming that she has been a good Senator for New York and a valuable force for change, but that a President also needs to be more than a policy wonk. He or she needs to lead with strength and vision. Especially after eight years of a divisive presidency (and no Republican, Democrat or Independent will deny this, unless they are driven by deep ideology, rather than common sense), this message may resonate quite well with voters.