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Obama: Lincoln in 1860 or Dean in 2004?

As I stood in the freezing cold on Saturday morning watching Barack Obama announce his run for president in Springfield, two questions kept circling in my head:

1) Why couldn't Obama be a Senator from Florida or some other warm southern state?
2) How is this man going to become president?

With respect to question number two, I have to admit I'm torn. On one hand, it's hard to enter the vortex of media adulation and hopeful enthusiasm surrounding Obama's campaign without becoming infected by it to some degree. Obama is an exceptionally gifted orator who radiates charisma - two qualities that in and of themselves make him a formidable modern day presidential challenger.

But as much as Obama wanted to draw parallels between himself and Abraham Lincoln on Saturday, I couldn't get past the echoes of much more recent history: Howard Dean in 2004. Obama went out of his way to cast himself not as a presidential candidate but as the leader of a "movement" of a younger generation that was going to "change our politics" and "take back" the country. We're now seeing media reports touting the impressive number of people signing up to internet networking sites to support Obama. There's a very "deja-vu-all-over-again" feel to the whole thing.

Substantively, at this early stage it's hard to discern any differences between Obama's candidacy and Dean's. The difference is all in the packaging - and that may or may not be enough to change the outcome. Where Dean was tart and pugilistic, Obama is smooth and soothing. Dean wanted to gird up and go to war with Republicans, Obama says he wants to "disagree without being disagreeable."

The other big difference between the two is the color of their skin, and it's the thing that may allow Obama to transcend politics in a way few candidates have ever done and to fulfill his promise of reaching across the partisan divide to unite the country.