Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Just another day in the Senate for Obama - except for media horde

By Nedra Pickler for the Associated Press

A photographer or two on the beach in Hawaii is nothing compared to the Capitol Hill swarm that greeted the newest presidential hopeful - Sen. Barack Obama.

Emerging from a lunch with colleagues Wednesday, reporters pressed the Illinois Democrat, who gave away little about his budding campaign. His appearance at a routine committee hearing drew every camera in the room, while the more senior senators who are thinking of running were ignored.

"Is there something rare at this table among competitors?" a smiling Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., remarked as he sat with Obama on his left and two other potential 2008 candidates - Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Joe Biden of Delaware - on his right.

After months of hype, the freshman senator jumped into the White House race Tuesday by forming a presidential exploratory committee and disclosing that an official announcement would come Feb. 10. Obama got in the race despite saying a day earlier that he was concerned to find a photographer "lurking in the bushes" when he was on vacation in Hawaii with his family last month.

Obama avoided media appearances Tuesday when he announced his decision on his Web site. Reporters found him Wednesday as he walked into the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing to the rat-a-tat-tat of camera clicks.

Biden, the committee chairman, could have been accused of trying to undercut his rivals. He forgot to call on Kerry and moved to cut off Obama when his allotted time was up.

"Mr. Chairman, how am I doing on time?" Obama asked as he wrapped up. Biden and Kerry had been whispering and laughing at a private joke while Obama questioned the panel of experts promoting a diplomatic strategy in Iraq.

"Eight seconds," Biden replied.

"I have eight seconds? That's enough to get one question in," Obama said.

But as he started to talk, Biden cut him off. "You're out of time, but go for it," Biden said with a wave of his hand.

"That was a quick second!" Obama protested, and continued with his question as senators are wont to do.

Biden gave Kerry his time after Nelson pointed out that the 2004 presidential nominee was being skipped over. Biden said he'd been out of the room on a phone call and lost track.

Shortly thereafter, most of the media left the room, too, on the heels of Obama.

The media reassembled - and grew in ranks - outside the weekly Democratic caucus lunch in the Capitol. Reporters surrounded Obama as he tried to leave, and he was asked how he plans to be a father while running for president.

"I always care about my kids," Obama said, stepping onto an elevator but unable to escape a the persistent reporter's follow-up question with her colleagues blocking the doors.

How are you going to be a father to your kids running for president? "Well, these are all considerations that I'm taking into account as I make my decisions about moving forward," he said, drawing farther into the elevator and away from outstretched arms jostling tape recorders.

Another reporter asked for Obama's reaction to a proposal by likely rival Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., to cap the number of troops in Iraq. He didn't directly answer, but only said there are many proposals that Democrats are considering as they try to reverse President Bush's troop increase.

Asked if he will offer his own idea, Obama said cryptically, "That will be coming soon."

Finally, another elevator offered an escape - at least for the day.

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