Obama, Clinton Court Campaign Staffers

Capping off his whirlwind tour of New Hampshire, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill, appears tonight on ESPN's "Monday Night Football."

With a nod toward the intense media and political speculation about his possible presidential run, Obama -- who just yesterday said he was "suspicious of hype" -- said to the camera during his appearance that he "would like to put all the doubts to rest. And tonight, after a lot of thought and a good deal of soul-searching, I would like to announce to my hometown of Chicago and all of America that I am ready … for the Bears to go all the way, baby."

He then put on a Bears cap and sang the Monday Night Football theme song.

But in a competition even more intense than tonight's game, presumed presidential hopefuls like Obama and perceived front-runner Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., are locking down political staffers, endorsements and fundraisers -- a process seemingly speeded up by Obama's flirtation with a presidential run.

Clinton today said that she may announce her intentions as soon as next month, adding that whether or not to run is a decision "that I won't really confront until after the first of the year."

Obama's candidacy may affect Clinton more than anyone. Before he began discussing a run, she seemed to many political observers unbeatable. Now that math has changed, and among the reasons is that she has such strong support among African-American voters, who are key in Democratic primaries.

Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., a senior African-American member of Congress, said there is an ethnic pride among blacks for a candidate who is one of them that is similar to the pride the Irish felt when they thought of John F. Kennedy.

"Black voters are what make Hillary Clinton so invincible, so tough in this election," said Joe Trippi, a longtime Democratic campaign operative. "But if Barack Obama gets in this race, that changes that dynamic big time."

Clinton and Obama are a study in contrasts. She is familiar, while he is new. She has experience, while he has excitement. She is battle-scarred, poked and prodded, whereas he is untested, with so much unknown -- though he insists he's not worried about any skeletons in his closet.

"One of the things I'm pretty confident about," he recently told ABC News' "Nightline," "is that when people know me, they conclude not that I'm perfect, but that I am in this thing for them."

But an Obama candidacy might devastate the other Democratic hopefuls -- former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, Delaware Sen. Joe Biden, Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd -- names most voters do not yet know and might not learn about with Obama and Clinton sucking the oxygen out of the room.

Just ask Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., another White House aspirant whose trip to New Hampshire this weekend got little attention.

"It's gonna look like a two-person race," said former Sen. Bob Kerrey, D-Neb., a 1992 presidential candidate and president of the New School. "The impact that's most negative for them [other candidates] is the money's gonna start to dry up."

There's long been speculation as to when this country might elect a black or a woman president. But until now, it's never seemed an actual choice.

ABC News' Clayton Sandell and Terry Moran contributed to this report.

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