Illinois Senator Barack Obama was in New York yesterday as speculating about the 2008 Presidential race started to reach a fever pitch (or as much of a fever pitch as possible this early on). He spoke at a fundraiser for Kids in Distressed situations, saying, "We have an empathy deficit. It's time for a sense of empathy to infuse our politics in America. It is time to stop making excuses for inaction." The Daily News reports his speech "invoked [Robert] Kennedy's famous 1967 trip to Mississippi to expose the horrors of child poverty in America" - which one person thought was a "cheap shot. You don't start your campaign on the mantle of someone else's success." The NY Times notes that while Obama got two standing ovations, "his performance was not flawless: at one point he referred to 'Jose' Posada of the New York Yankees instead of Jorge." And Posada happened to be one of the fundraiser's honorees and was sitting at Obama's table!

Obama was also asked about the Queens shooting of Sean Bell, Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield; Obama said that investigation was still in progress but the shooting did seem "excessive."

But he did not mention anything about running in 2008. Obama made sure to say, "I have the utmost respect for Hillary Clinton . . . I think actually she could win if she ran, and she is an extraordinarily able person. If make a decision to run, it would not be based on my assessment of Hillary Clinton, who I think has been a [good] senator." Senator Hillary Clinton, though, seems closer to announcing publicly that she'll run for President, as more NY Democrats tell the press about their phone calls with Hillary: "She said to me, 'I'm really going to go for this. I'm going to make this effort.'" The Post says she spoke to politicians like Attorney General-elect Andrew Cuomo, donors like Gristedes' John Catsimatidis and the Reverend Al Sharpton yesterday. Even though Clinton is a front runner with her name recognition and fundraising potential, there are lingering questions about her electability.

The Daily News has a graphic putting Obama and Clinton side by side. And back in 2005, Columbia's alumni magazine wondered if Obama was the new face of the Democratic party.

Photograph of Senator Barack Obama at a New York fundraiser last night by Seth Wenig/AP