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Obama forms exploratory committee

From NBC's Huma Zaidi and Mark Murray
Ending weeks of speculation, Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) announced this morning that he is forming a presidential exploratory committee. (His office officially filed just after 10:00 am ET.) In a videotaped message on his new website, Obama said he will announce his final decision on February 10 in Chicago. "As many of you know, over the last few months I have been thinking hard about my plans for 2008," he said. "Running for the presidency is a profound decision -- a decision no one should make on the basis of media hype or personal ambition alone -- and so before I committed myself and my family to this race, I wanted to be sure that this was right for us and, more importantly, right for the country."

If he officially decides to run, the junior senator from Illinois will certainly be among the front-runners for the Democratic nomination -- who will likely also include New York Sen. Hillary Clinton and 2004 Democratic vice presidential nominee John Edwards. During the 2006 midterm elections, Obama became a fund-raising rock star for Democratic candidates across the country, and his message of hope and unity could have wide appeal in this political environment. At the same time, however, critics will obviously point to his lack of experience -- he has spent just two years in the US Senate -- as the country faces numerous domestic and foreign challenges.

Among those challenges is the situation in the Middle East, which Clinton -- who just returned from a tour of the Middle East -- was scheduled to address today in a press conference. However, shortly after Obama's announcement, Clinton postponed her presser until tomorrow afternoon, possibly to avoid questions about Obama.