The Truth-O-Meter Says:

"Senator Obama's relatives and friends say he has been talking about running for president for at least the last 15 years," a campaign spokesman said.

Hillary Clinton on Sunday, December 2nd, 2007 in a news release

Ridiculous evidence -- but true

The campaign of Sen. Hillary Clinton recently trotted out quotes from Sen. Barack Obama's kindergarten teacher to prove that he's been aiming for the White House longer than he admits. Seriously.

The conflict between the top Democrats running for president began when Obama said this: "I have not been planning to run for president for however number of years some of the other candidates have been planning for."

The Clinton campaign responded with a thoroughly researched news release that culled details from Obama's life that had been reported in feature articles about him.

"Senator Obama's relatives and friends say he has been talking about running for president for at least the last 15 years," the Clinton news release said. "So who's not telling the truth, them or him?"

The evidence:

• Former classmates who said that when he was at Harvard Law School, Obama was "thinking about politics."

• A brother-in-law saying Obama told him in the early 1990s that he was interested in a run for president.

• An essay Obama wrote in third grade called, "I want to be a president."

• An essay he wrote in kindergarten called, "I Want To Become President."

PolitiFact set out to confirm those sources.

Brad Berenson, a classmate and friend of Obama's at Harvard Law School in the early 1990s, said: "I certainly never heard him say directly or indirectly that he wanted to be president of the United States. That kind of sentiment would have been absurdly presumptuous at that point."

Now, Obama spent some of his early years in Indonesia, including kindergarten and third grade. We started to track down those teachers living on the other side of the world, but then we realized this goose chase wasn't worth the effort. The Obama campaign is not denying the accuracy of the Clinton reports.

Anita Dunn, a Democratic strategist, says there's no doubt the Clinton campaign has some facts on its side.

"The overall thematic attack that he is out there saying that he is somehow different from someone else in the field, that he is somehow propelled into this race … I think that's absolutely fair game for the Clinton camp to go after," said Dunn, a Democratic strategist not aligned with a candidate, but who worked as a consultant to Obama's Hopefund PAC for six months in 2006. "On the other hand, were they wise in the example they used?"

It does appear that Obama expressed ambition for the office of president many years ago. We wish we had a ruling category called "True, but ridiculous." We don't, so we're left with True.


About this statement:

Published: Thursday, December 6th, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

Subjects: Candidate Biography

Sources:, "Twice in One Day: Senator Obama Tries Rewriting History, Again Claims He Hasn't Been Planning White House Run," Dec. 2, 2007

Des Moines Register, "Obama pulls ahead for Democrats in Iowa Poll," Dec. 2, 2007

Harvard College Democrats, "Barack Obama: Third-Grade Liar," Dec. 3, 2007

MSNBC's "Morning Joe," interview with Mark Penn, chief strategist for the Clinton campaign, Dec. 4, 2007

Associated Press article, "Obama debunks claim about Islamic school," by Nedra Pickler, Jan. 24, 2007

Los Angeles Times article, "As a child, Obama crossed a cultural divide in Indonesia," by Paul Watson, March 15, 2007

Washington Post article, "A series of fortunate events," by Liza Mundy, Aug. 12, 2007

Chicago Tribune article, "Barack Obama defends PAC spending," by John McCormick, Dec. 2, 2007

Interview with Jen Psaki, Obama campaign spokesman, Dec. 5, 2007

Interview with Anita Dunn, Democratic strategist for Squier Knapp Dunn in Washington, D.C., Dec. 5, 2007

Interview with Brad Berenson, former Obama classmate at Harvard Law School, Dec. 6, 2007


Written by: Amy Hollyfield
Researched by: Caryn Baird, Shirl Kennedy
Edited by: Scott Montgomery

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