Kudos to the Politico's Ben Smith for apparently piecing together an interesting puzzle and reporting that Barack Obama may have begun to make early moves toward a presidential campaign as early as 2004, before he was elected to the Senate.
Smith noticed this sentence from a story that ran in the Wall Street Journal last week: "By the end of the  campaign, his aides were sending workers into Iowa, the first Presidential caucus state, to begin developing contacts among Democrats there, according to Al Kindle, an Obama campaign aide at the time."
From there, Smith fleshed out the story, talking to Kindle, who "said there had been outreach to Iowa and, he said, Wisconsin, with a possible presidential campaign among the aims." Smith also quotes Kindle as saying, "As he was planning his prominence in the Senate, there was a need to begin to extend those coattails, so neighborhing states were critical -- and if in the future [the presidency] was ever going to be a possibility, those states were going to be critical."
Obama's chief strategist told Smith, however, that "there was not one iota of thought or discussion about 2008 in 2004. Not at all." Dan Shomon, an Obama aide at the time, also told Smith he didn't recall any presidential planning in 2004.
Smith does note, however, that Obama's first stop in Iowa was "notably early: October 4, 2004 in Davenport, right across the river from Illinois, where he was still just a state senator."
A month after that appearance in Iowa, and after his election to the Senate, Obama told reporters, "If I were to seriously consider running on a national ticket, I would essentially have to start now, without having served a day in the Senate. Now, there are some people who might be comfortable doing that, but I'm not one of those people."
In Obama's defense, if he was indeed not telling the whole truth at the time he made that statement, he wouldn't be any different from any other politician. "I'm not running" is, at this point, practically code for, "You bet your ass I'm running, would you like a campaign bumper sticker?"