Democratic Sen. Barack Obama, who is mulling a presidential bid, will make his first visit to New Hampshire next month.
The Illinois senator will join the state's Democrats on Dec. 10 for a belated celebration of their big win in the midterm election. Obama has traveled to Iowa, site of the leadoff presidential caucuses, but New Hampshire hasn't been on his itinerary.
Obama has gotten encouragement to seek the presidency in 2008 from fellow Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, who sent a letter to political supporters this week encouraging them to sign a "Run, Barack, Run" petition.
"Barack has said publicly that he is considering a run, and part of his consideration will doubtlessly include measuring the level of his support from Democrats across the country," Durbin wrote. "So let's show him how strong that support is."
Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs said Obama did not know Durbin was sending the letter until after it was out. Gibbs said Obama's only response was that he always appreciates Durbin's counsel and support.
Another draft Obama effort is online at http://www.runobama.com, created by Democrat Todd Webster. Webster, who was a spokesman for former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle, said more than 400 people had signed his petition as of Tuesday, six days after he launched the site.
Surge to the forefront
Though still in his first term in the Senate, Obama has attracted national attention for his fresh face, commanding speaking style and compelling personal story. He plans a Friday night appearance on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" to promote his best-selling book, "The Audacity of Hope."
While in California, Obama also plans to visit the Saddleback megachurch in Orange County, home pulpit to Rick Warren, author of the best-seller "The Purpose-Driven Life."
Conservative evangelical Rob Schenck, president of the National Clergy Council, is protesting the visit because of Obama's support of abortion rights.
The race for the 2008 Democratic nomination is considered wide open, and at least a dozen potential contenders are weighing formal bids, including front-runner Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.
Obama generated buzz in September when he was the keynote speaker at Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin's 29th annual steak fry. After the Iowa caucuses, New Hampshire is the first primary state.
"We are honored that Senator Obama has accepted our invitation to celebrate the historic, tidal wave victory New Hampshire's Democrats experienced this November," state party Chairwoman Kathy Sullivan said Tuesday in announcing the visit.
Democrats took both of the state's U.S. House seats, the Democratic governor won re-election by a record margin and the historically GOP-dominated Legislature and Executive Council both swung to Democratic control.