By Dan BalzWashington Post Staff WriterWednesday, January 17, 2007; Page A01
Democrats moved a step closer yesterday to what shapes up as one of the most historic and compelling contests ever for their party's presidential nomination, a study in contrasting styles and candidacies in which race and gender play central roles in the competition.
At center stage stand Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, who set up his presidential exploratory committee yesterday, and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, who is set to make clear her intentions soon. Never has a party begun a nomination contest with its two most celebrated candidates a woman and an African American.
The 2008 nomination contest that will play out over the coming year is far more than a two-person race. Former senator John Edwards of North Carolina has already established himself as a genuine contender for the nomination, and the rest of the prospective Democratic field is among the strongest in years.
But initially, the electricity will be generated by the Clinton and Obama candidacies. The news media will find the story line irresistible, and Democrats around the country are eagerly anticipating the competition. "Senator Obama's got the magic, but Hillary Clinton's got the muscle," said Jamal Simmons, a Democratic strategist who is neutral in the nomination campaign. "This is going to be a titanic fight between energy and charisma on one hand and money and organization on the other."