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Obama Lending Star Power to Other Democrats

With Comfortable Lead In Illinois Senate Race, Nominee Hits the Road

By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 11, 2004; Page A02

MILWAUKEE -- Everybody wants a piece of Barack Obama. Ahead by a mile in his race for the U.S. Senate from Illinois, the youthful state senator with huge ambitions is taking his show on the road to help Democrats from the bottom of the ticket to the very top.

In the past week, Obama has mailed checks totaling $260,000 to Senate candidates in 13 states, including $53,000 to the do-or-die campaign of Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (S.D.). He donated $100,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and $150,000 to party organizations in key states, including Florida, Wisconsin and Colorado.

Carrying his verbal assault on President Bush beyond state lines, Obama will fly to Los Angeles this week for a Democratic fundraiser and address rallies in Colorado and Nevada for John F. Kerry. In a close presidential race where turnout could prove decisive, Obama said in an interview that he is talking with Kerry advisers about where he can be most effective in the campaign's final days.

"Turnout is huge," Obama said after a Saturday morning rally in the hard-fought presidential battleground of Wisconsin. "If there are selective things that we can do that can be helpful, then we want to do them. The Kerry people are still making determinations as to what states remain in play. Safe to say we will probably have a couple more travel days this month."

Obama, 43, is a singular phenomenon. Until recently an obscure state senator from Chicago who had lost his only race for Congress, he dazzled Democrats with his keynote address to the party's national convention in July. At home, he defeated six contenders in the primary, and polls show him with an insurmountable 45-point lead over conservative Republican Alan Keyes.

He also happens to have raised more than $14 million, said Obama's communications director Robert Gibbs, who bears the uncommonly relaxed look of a spokesman who rarely has to parry bad news. On a day that started in Milwaukee and ended in downstate Illinois, Obama was trailed by reporters from three national newspapers, National Public Radio, Time magazine and, in the clearest sign of his transformation, Vogue.

"He's like a rock star," said theater student Lily Emerson, 21, as fans mobbed Obama after an afternoon rally in Decatur, Ill.

In Alton, Ill., where Obama was outpolled in the primary, he signed scores of autographs and posed for dozens of photographs with giddy strangers, draping a long arm around their shoulders and flipping the switch on his radiant smile. Words of thanks and encouragement slipped smoothly from this lips.

"There's so much in my heart," one woman said to him, earnestly clutching his hands. "Make me proud to be an American again."

Obama said, "You're going to make me tear up," and he hugged her.

The star power translated well in Milwaukee, a short hop north along Lake Michigan from Obama's home base. Gwen Moore, a black Democrat running for Congress, introduced him to a crowd of about 800 people in terms now familiar to him.

"He's the future of the Democratic Party," Moore said. "He's all of us."

Obama took the stage and launched into a riff about his Kenyan father, his Kansan mother and the name few knew how to pronounce. He dropped in references to his Harvard education, his attendance at church and his two young girls.

Then he launched into Bush.

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