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Obama: Ready or Not?

Barack Obama's campaign for president isn't even three full days old and he's already made his first gaffe:

Shortly after making the comment that U.S. soldiers' lives have been "wasted" in Iraq, Obama told reporters that he "absolutely apologized" to military families who were offended, adding further that, "Even as I said it, I realized I had misspoken."

This may be the first gaffe of the campaign, but it certainly won't be the last. Obama's ability to handle these type of situations is part and parcel of the selection process. As Dan Balz writes in today's Washington Post:

Obama's advisers expressed general satisfaction with the initial campaign swing. Still, they do not underestimate the difficulties ahead. Asked Monday what they regard as the most significant question Obama must answer in the coming months, communications director Robert Gibbs answered without hesitation: "People want to know if he can handle this."

To the extent Obama continues to commit unforced errors like the one in Iowa on Sunday, Democrats may begin to have creeping doubts about his readiness. I don't think that'll be the case: Obama seems a quick study and disciplined enough not to do himself in with self-inflicted wounds, and my hunch is he'll be adroit enough to navigate the rough and tumble with the big dogs in the primary - even though his only real experience to date has been a Democratic Senate primary where the front runner imploded in the final weeks and a non-competitive general election against an easily dismissed, hyper-aggressive opponent.

But even if Obama does run a competitive, mistake-free campaign, Democrats may still come to view him in the role of understudy. That's probably been part of Obama's calculation all along: best case scenario he captures the nomination with, to use his terms, an "improbable quest" for the White House. But if he makes a decent showing in the primaries, how does the eventual nominee - whether it be Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Bill Richardson, or anyone else - not put him on the ticket?