As Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., seeks to sharpen his differences with Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., his worst enemy could be . . . Barack Obama.
Obama has exploded onto the national scene with his promise of a new type of politics.
As embodied in the title of his book "Audacity of Hope" his candidacy has cultivated an "Obama brand" that's built on the broad promise of an end to politics as usual -- which means eschewing the withering attacks that often punctuate campaigns.
The strategy is showing signs of working, as evidenced by his campaign's almost $20 million fundraising haul over the past quarter, and the more than 20,000 people he drew to an appearance last week in New York City -- in Clinton's political backyard.
But with barely 90 days left before the first presidential votes are cast, the Obama camp is facing a remarkably static race that has Clinton ensconced as the firm front-runner.
If Obama takes Clinton head on -- the time-tested way to bring her poll numbers down -- he risks sacrificing the qualities that have made him unique in the race. It's a danger that Obama advisers say they're well aware of, as they seek to find ways for him to distinguish himself from Clinton without going on the attack.
"He has a strong aversion to going out there and engaging in sort of gratuitous attacks," said David Axelrod, Obama's chief strategist. "He's going to do [draw distinctions] in his own way. One of the things people appreciate about him is he's not a cheap-shot artist. That's part of the change we need in our politics."
"This is clearly an election about change, and the real question is, what is the nature of that change?" said Alan Solomont, a top Obama fundraiser. "What Sen. Obama is talking about is a fundamental change in how we conduct our politics. Americans are sick and tired of politics being about attacks."
Obama is seeking to highlight his differences with Clinton and other top Democrats this week with a speech Tuesday in Chicago to be followed by a four-day tour of Iowa.
His Chicago address coincides with the fifth anniversary of an anti-war speech he gave shortly before Congress voted to authorize force to oust Saddam Hussein.
Obama gave his initial speech while still a member of the Illinois state Senate, long before he had any realistic prospects of running for the presidency.
The Obama camp views his early anti-war position as key to his differences with his opponents, since all of the other major Democratic candidates -- including Clinton, former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, and Sens. Joe Biden, D-Del., and Chris Dodd, D-Conn. -- voted for the war in Iraq.
But Obama has struggled to define how his plan for Iraq looking forward would be different than Clinton's.
And, in looking back to 2002, Obama must be careful in how he calibrates his distinctions, since Clinton and her aides are ready to remind Obama of his past statements regarding positive campaigning if and when he decides to dial up attacks.
In July, for instance, a dispute over foreign policy let Obama to exclaim that Clinton's vote for the war was an example of "irresponsibility and naivete," and he suggested that Clinton would continue the "Bush-Cheney" foreign policy.