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Barack Obama Has a Fund-Raising Dilemma

Sometimes, strange situations arise on the campaign trail: Just ask Barack Obama.

The Illinois senator and Democratic presidential candidate was in New Hampshire recently and received a warning from a potential supporter:

"You can be it," Maggie North said at a small gathering at a Hanover restaurant Monday morning that drew eight people. "But you've got to stop -- excuse me for being blunt -- you've got to stop getting involved in the way people are fighting each other, chewing you up a little more."

To this warning from a caring supporter, Obama responded lamely, "That's what you do when you run for president."

This exchange neatly defines the dilemma that he faces in this campaign.

Obama has positioned himself as the "outsider" who will be different -- bringing hope to Washington, ending partisan divisions, reducing the effect of lobbyists and uniting the country. This is heady stuff.

But Obama's weak reply alluded to the problem he faces: reality. It remains difficult to lead with hope when you're not leading in the polls. Politics by nature is a competitive endeavor. At times you have to attack in order to get ahead, and at other times you have to play defense.

Obama has consistently trailed Sen. Hillary Clinton (D., N.Y.) in the polls. Clinton has positioned herself as the candidate of experience who is ready to lead on day one after she wins. The polls prove that the public bought the argument. She increased her lead to about 20 percentage points a few weeks ago.

Washington political strategists would suggest that Obama's only recourse is to go on the attack. And he has followed that tack. In recent weeks, the campaign has taken every opportunity to try to draw differences between Obama and the competition. But it has also created the negativity sensed by the woman from New Hampshire.

This raises the question, is Obama really the outsider who will change the equation, or is he already an insider?

People forget that Obama had several fortunate things happen that propelled him into the Senate. His initial opponent, former Goldman Sachs investment banker Jack Ryan, dropped out because of unseemly behavior.

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