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Originally published October 21, 2006 at 12:00 AM | Page modified October 21, 2006 at 3:23 PM

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Obama's a big draw in Seattle; should Clinton be worried?

If you have spare tickets for Sen. Barack Obama's book-tour stop in Seattle next week, Zee Triplett is hoping you find her Internet ad. Because Obama is a sellout...

Chicago Tribune and Newsday

WASHINGTON — If you have spare tickets for Sen. Barack Obama's book-tour stop in Seattle next week, Zee Triplett is hoping you find her Internet ad.

Because Obama is a sellout in Seattle. Triplett, 26, had called to buy tickets for the senator's appearance Thursday at 2,500-seat Benaroya Hall. But the tickets for the Illinois Democrat's visit, part of his book tour to promote "The Audacity of Hope," were gone in minutes. The same for events in Boston and Philadelphia.

Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., has plenty of real and perceived rivals (Senate opponent John Spencer, John McCain, Al Gore, President Bush, to name a few), but Clinton protégé Obama is the man being watched by her handlers most closely these days.

The presumed 2008 Democratic presidential front-runner's allies, donors and operatives always have known the charisma-dripping Illinois Democrat was toying with a presidential run. But Obama's refusal to rule out a White House campaign sends shudders through the Clinton camp.

"They were in a tizzy about the possibility of Al Gore running, they were in a tizzy about Mark Warner and now they're in a tizzy about Barack Obama," said a Democratic operative with ties to Clinton.

Obama, 45, sounded semi-presidential in an interview with Time magazine's Joe Klein, saying he hadn't "unraveled that puzzle yet," referring to the 2008 race.

Obama in Seattle


Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., will appear 6-8 p.m. Thursday at Benaroya Hall, where he will give a speech and sign copies of his new book, "The Audacity of Hope." The event is sold out. For more information, call 206-624-6600.

Obama also plans to make Democratic campaign stops, including a rally with Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and U.S. House candidate Darcy Burner at Bellevue Community College. Doors open to the public at 10 a.m., with speeches starting around 10:30 a.m.

Seattle Times staff

What makes Obama so dangerous to Clinton is that he's the only other Democrat (barring the entry of Gore) whose fame transcends regional and ideological labels. During a recent foray to Iowa, Obama was greeted like a rock star. He's the most sought-after Democratic official at fundraisers this year, according to Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

"Hillary's inner circle are talking about him a lot, and why shouldn't they?" said a former aide to President Clinton. "Obama's a sensation; he's one of these walk-on-water types. Everybody loves him. He's a huge threat to her — huge."

If Clinton's campaign is burdened by three decades worth of political baggage, Obama has the benefit of boarding the campaign with nary a carry-on. After less than two years in the Senate, he has only a handful of votes to be judged on, and he's done a Clintonesque job of collaborating with Republicans on noncontroversial issues.

There are uncanny similarities between the pair: Both are best-selling authors swamped by autograph seekers; both are veritable cash machines (Obama has cultivated billionaires such as Warren Buffett and developed a fundraising base on both coasts); both have been nominated for spoken-word Grammys; and both are Illinois natives (Obama likes the White Sox; Clinton is a Cubs fan who claims to love the Yankees).

Barack Obama


Age: 45 (born Aug. 4, 1961, in Honolulu)

Home: Chicago

Education: B.A., Columbia University, 1983 graduate; J.D., Harvard Law School, 1991 graduate

Political experience: Illinois state senator, 1996-2004; U.S. senator, 2005-present

Personal: Married 14 years; wife, Michelle; two daughters, Malia, 8, and Sasha, 4

Source: obama.senate.gov

Clinton took Obama under her wing when he entered the Senate, counseling him on how to balance fame and politics.

But there's always been an undercurrent of rivalry: In 2005, Obama quipped in earshot of a Chicago Tribune reporter: "I outpoll her in Illinois."

In Seattle, the Obama faithful are offering up to $50 each on Craigslist for an Obama ticket. A seller on eBay advertised a ticket to hear the senator speak for $125.

Triplett, a Democrat, won't be deterred if she doesn't find a ticket through her Craigslist ad.

"We're probably just going to have a group of us just go down and crash it, just to say we went," she said. "We all purchased the book together. We're reading it together. We all watched his Oprah episode together, and we watched Larry King last night together."

Chad Bronstein, an employment recruiter, arrived at the Elliott Bay Book Co. too late to buy a couple of $5 tickets. "My wife was pretty distraught," he said.

"I said there's always a price for everything, right? So I went on Craigslist and typed in Barack Obama, and I saw a bunch of people trying to buy tickets for $10 and $20," Bronstein said. "So I put it for $30." He got the tickets.

Karin Power, who works with nonprofits, also is willing to pay $30 to hear Obama in Seattle.

"I read 'Dreams from My Father' last year or so and appreciated his background more," she said in an e-mail. "I admire that he hasn't let politics go to his head yet ... "

Unlike others, she's not hoping to go because she wants to see a 2008 presidential candidate. The year "2008 is too soon, and I think he's still too green," she wrote.

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