Senator Barack Obama took the first step on the road to the White House yesterday.

The 45-year-old junior Senator from Illinois announced that he is forming an exploratory committee, which allows him to raise funds and put together a campaign.

Obama is the only African-American in the Senate, and his candidacy is already being compared to that of President John F Kennedy.

A Democrat, he has only been a Senator for two years, but Obama immediately sought to portray his lack of experience as an advantage in the present situation.

He never voted for the Iraq war, and yesterday said the policies of the Bush years had put America in peril.

“Our leaders in Washington seem incapable of working together in a practical, commonsense way,” Obama said in a video message to his constituents, posted on his website.

“Politics has become so bitter and partisan, so gummed up by money and influence, that we can’t tackle the big problems that demand solutions. And that’s what we have to change first.”

As well as being anti-war, Obama is pro-choice, favours civil unions for lesbian and gay couples and supports universal health care.

He first came to be spoken of as a future President after the Democratic National Convention in 2004.

His keynote speech about national unity moved many to tears, and is regarded as one of the best such addresses to the convention in modern times.

“The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats.

“But I’ve got news for them too. We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don’t like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the Red States.

“We coach Little League in the Blue States and yes, we got some gay friends in the Red States.

“There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and patriots who supported the war in Iraq.

“We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.”

Sen Obama is expected to formally announce his candidacy next month.

His unique racial background makes him the most interesting candidate for the Democratic nomination.

Obama was born in Hawaii, to a Kenyan father and a mother from Kansas.

He was raised in Jakarta, Indonesia, and Hawaii. He graduated from Harvard with a law degree in 1991.

In a Presidential race filled with white, 50-something male politicians, Obama stands out.

His soft-spoken manner, easy sense of humour and perfect-looking family are other advantages – as is his lack of Congressional service.

Obama’s distance from the decision to go to war could prove a decisive advantage with an electorate now overwhelmingly of the opinion that the whole war is a disastrous mistake.

The favourite to win the Democratic party nomination for President, Hillary Clinton, is already under fire for her hawkish approach to the war on terror.

Unlike former President Clinton, Obama has spoken candidly about using marijuana and cocaine as a younger man, and about his struggle to come to terms with his mixed-race identity.

Although Obama has taken the first step towards the White House, the journey requires stamina.

The Democratic National Convention, which formally chooses the party’s candidate, is not until August 2008.

Election day is November 4th 2008.

President Bush is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term, so the new President, whoever he or she is, will not take the oath of office until January 21st 2009.