Obama: Hype or Heft?

On the eve of formally declaring his candidacy, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., drew fire from a Democratic presidential rival for his decision to skip an upcoming presidential candidates' forum in Carson City, Nev.

"Unfortunately, not all the candidates will be there but enough of us will be there for people to get a sense of the depth and substance of all of us," said former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, referring to a Feb. 21 forum that will be moderated by ABC News' George Stephanopoulos.

Obama's decision to skip the Nevada forum sponsored by the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) is a potentially risky one, particularly if his rivals are able to use it to portray the Illinois Democrat, who only recently started his third year in the U.S. Senate, as trying to get elected more on hype than heft.

The thinly veiled jab from Vilsack comes on top of a missive to reporters from the Republican National Committee portraying Obama as the "Dem Dodger." Both attacks came just one day before Obama formally declares his presidential candidacy in Springfield, Ill., where he served as a state lawmaker.

Asked earlier this week by The Politico's Roger Simon about the charge that he is "a blank slate and not specific on issues," Obama said the books he has written give people "more insight" into his thinking than "perhaps any presidential candidate or potential presidential candidate in history."

Last year, Obama offered a more candid assessment of the policy content contained in "The Audacity of Hope," his most recent book.

"This book doesn't drill that deep in terms of policy," Obama told Time's Joe Klein in the Oct. 15, 2006, issue of the magazine.

Obama's campaign says that the Illinois lawmaker is skipping the AFSCME forum, which Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., asked him to attend, because he will be taking questions from voters in Iowa, the state that hosts the first-in-the-nation caucuses.

"You can't do everything you want to do," Obama spokesman Dan Pfeiffer told ABC News, "not even for your friends."

Although Iowa is still expected to vote first in the 2008 nomination contest, the Silver State is expected to take on added importance.

As part of an effort to increase minority and labor participation in the nominating process, the Democratic National Committee awarded Nevada with a caucus vote in the early stages of a Democratic nomination contest that has previously been the sole domain of Iowa and New Hampshire.

Two candidates who will not be skipping the Feb. 21 forum are Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina. The former first lady and former vice presidential nominee are perceived at this point as Obama's top two rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination.

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