By DON BABWIN
The Associated Press
Tuesday, October 17, 2006; 4:33 PM
CHICAGO -- People stood in the rain for hours, laughed big laughs at his little jokes and pulled out cameras and cell phones to snap photos of Democratic Sen. Barack Obama as he signed copies of his latest book, "The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream," on Tuesday.
While a first-term senator might draw an inquisitive crowd at a book signing in his home state, Obama drew scores of people who lined up for three hours before a bookstore opened. After all, the potential presidential candidate is one of the hottest commodities in U.S. politics.
"For our generation he is kind of the lighthouse, the hope," said Allison Ringhand, a 19-year-old University of Chicago student from Milwaukee. "He's changing the face of government in America."
One after another, college students, retirees and those in between tossed out words like "charismatic" and "hope" or, if that wasn't enough, "shining hope." They even mentioned the "K" word, as in John F. Kennedy.
"You know Kennedy was in the Senate for two years when he ran for president," said Barbara O'Connor, 76, a few minutes before buying three copies of Obama's book.
Even Sandy Sutphin, a staunch Republican from Ellicott City, Md., said she'd consider voting for Obama _ if he became an independent. "He's a good man," Sutphin said at one bookstore, where television news crews, including one from France, and a documentary film crew from New York recorded the event.
Obama was largely unknown outside Illinois when he burst onto the national scene with a widely acclaimed address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention _ which included the phrase "the audacity of hope." That November, he became the fifth black ever elected to the Senate.
Since then, he has become one of the party's biggest stars, traveling the nation campaigning for Democratic candidates and raising money for the party amid questions about whether he will run for president in 2008. Obama's face fills the cover of Time magazine next to the headline, "Why Barack Obama Could Be The Next President."
But Tuesday, during the first stop on a tour that will take him to a dozen cities, Obama deftly handled pleas for him to run for president in 2008, either thanking people for their comments or wondering aloud how he could ever turn them down.
Then, when 29-year-old University of Chicago graduate student Jeannie Britton said she wanted him to become the nation's first "attractive president," even Obama couldn't resist bringing up JFK.
"Kennedy wasn't bad, from what I understand," he said, smiling.