The 2008 campaign ad season has kicked off with a "Draft Obama" commerical set to run in New Hampshire through Christmas day.
updated 12/20/2006 5:11:31 PM ET 2006-12-20T22:11:31

Illinois Sen. Barack Obama (D) may not have decided whether now is the time for him to seek the White House, but Draft Obama sure has.

A 60-second ad urging the junior senator to enter the race will debut in New Hampshire on Wednesday and run through Christmas Day. It is also making its way onto Washington, D.C., airwaves this week. The Jackson Group's Bud Jackson, who produced the ad gratis, confirmed it is the first TV spot of the 2008 election.

"We can replace fear with hope" flashes on the screen as the ad begins; it's a line that underscores what many political analysts deem Obama's top selling point. And Obama's second book -- "The Audacity of Hope," echoing the same theme -- is once again perched on top of the New York Times' best-seller list. Jackson said that although he's used the line in other campaign spots, it was an easy choice for the TV spot.

New Hampshire played host to Obama last weekend in what was reported by the New Hampshire Union Leader as a "whirlwind debut." But national affairs writer Tom Curry found that the feverish media entourage that followed Obama put off the New Hampshirites who are used to being "courted" and "want more substance when he returns."

That's precisely why Jackson, who said he may not even end up working for a presidential candidate in 2008, got on board to produce the spot.

"Obama is potentially the right candidate at the right time," Jackson said, adding that Democrats deserve to hear more from him.

Jackson and consultant John Hlinko, who is also a new addition to Draft Obama, were part of the successful movement that pulled retired Gen. Wesley Clark into the 2004 Democratic presidential primary. One of Jackson's claims to fame is that he produced the first-ever presidential draft ad -- a similar ad to this year's Obama spot, but touting Clark.

The group is clear about its intended audience: Obama himself. "Our target is the senator," said Draft Obama spokeswoman Kris Schultz.

Still, the ad may impact the public at large as well, likely raising Obama's national profile and name recognition. A recent Newsweek magazine poll found that 31 percent of registered voters had never heard of the one-term senator. The Democrats' presumed front-runner, New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, doesn't have that hurdle; just 4 percent said they knew nothing about the former first lady.

Obama won't be in New Hampshire or Washington to view the ad in the coming week; he's vacationing in Hawaii with his family and making the final decision on whether or not he wants to enter the fray.

But the Draft Obama movement is also picking up in the Aloha State right now. Jackson said there are no current plans to air the spot there, but the group is looking into it, and it will depend on their fundraising efforts.

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Schultz said that the group received a rush of donations after the Union Leader published news of the ad last Wednesday. But Schultz also indicated that she doesn't expect the group to be around very long because Obama said he plans to announce his decision about running shortly after the New Year.

Draft Obama is registered as a limited liability company, not a political organization, but that has no effect on the fundraising rules it must follow. Via email, outgoing Federal Election Commission Chairman Michael Toner said, "Draft organizations have to follow hard-dollar limits regardless of whether they are a LLC, corporation, or however they are organized (meaning they can't accept corporate and union donations nor individual contributions beyond the limits)."

That limitation coupled with Obama's time frame gives the organization little time to accomplish its mission, which is to show Obama that his grassroots support is "more than a mile wide and an inch deep," Schultz said

Schultz said she approached Ben Stanfield -- a 25-year-old Maryland-based non-political computer technician who created the Draft Obama Web site on Oct. 2, 2005 -- to see if she could purchase the site from him. Instead, he offered to let her join him, and Draft Obama was born. "Most of us have day jobs," she said of the group's volunteers, but she added that they would likely try to join an Obama campaign should one materialize.

Copyright 2012 by National Journal Group Inc.


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