Senator Barack Obama has officially declared that he is running for President.

The charismatic American politician said that he does not think either race or religion will be defining factors in the choice of the next leader of the free world.

In an interview with PA the junior senator from Illinois, who has been publicly supportive of gay rights, said that being mixed race was not a disadvantage.

“I think that early on it may spark some curiosity or a sense of novelty, but I think very quickly people will be judging me on the merits,” he said.

“Do I have a message that resonates with people’s concerns about health care and education, jobs and terrorism?

“And if they do, then I think race won’t be a major factor,” he said.

The Obama bandwagon looks close to flattening the aspirations of Hilary Clinton, with the 45-year-old drawing screaming crowds more akin more commonly associated with a rock star.

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

British actress Emma Thompson has spoken of the dream ticket for many Hollywood “limousine liberals,” namely a Clinton/Obama Democratic platform.

“Between them they’d get both the female vote and the black vote and then they’d have the whole election sewn up,” she told The Independent.

Thompson omitted the gay vote. Obama is seen as both pro-gay rights and anti-prejudice.

He has spoken and written of his support for civil partnerships, and voted against the proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.

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 and silence on gay issues.

Many LGBT Americans are unhappy that the former First Lady and other Senate Democrats have not responded in a visible and assertive way to attacks against gay marriage and other gay rights efforts by conservative Republicans and religious advocacy groups.

Obama has also been very outspoken on AIDS, and twice publicly took an HIV test to demonstrate that people should not be ashamed of checking their status.

On the issue of religion, Obama told PA that it is well known that he is a practicing Christian.

“Ultimately what I think voters will be looking for is not so much a litmus test on faith as an assurance that a candidate has a value system and that is appreciative of the role that religious faith can play in helping shape people’s lives,” he said.

Religious fundamentalists have already set up websites attacking Obama’s position on gay rights and abortion.

Christians for Social Justice created ObamaNation.Com, a website “exposing” Obama’s positions on the issues.

In a sign of the moral battles ahead, Pastor Clenard H. Childress, Jr. director of the group, said:

“60 percent of all new AIDS cases in America will be the result of the violation of Leviticus 18:22 and Romans 1:27 (men having sex with men).

“If he were to become President of the United States Sen. Obama’s support of homosexual unions would pose a real health threat to African Americans.”

Obama has been unafraid to make the case for fair treatment for gay people. He is is pro-choice, favours civil unions for lesbian and gay couples and supports universal health care.

Last year he wrote:

“I am not willing to have the state deny American citizens a civil union that confers equivalent rights on such basic matters as hospital visitation or health insurance coverage simply because the people they love are of the same sex.

“Nor am I willing to accept a reading of the Bible that considers an obscure line in Romans to be more defining of Christianity than the Sermon on the Mount.”

Obama has energised the early stages of the race, but he will need stamina.

The race to the White House is a marathon, not a sprint. The Democratic convention is not until 26th August 2008, the elections are in November 2008 and the new President will not take office until January 21st 2009.