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Obama delivers star power during whirlwind tour of LA

LOS ANGELES -- Senator Barack Obama visited Los Angeles last week, showing why he has become one of the most sought-after Democratic prospects for the White House.

Obama spoke to a crowd of more than 800 at the California African-American Museum on Friday.

Then he joined actor Ben Affleck to promote a state proposition at a news conference at the University of Southern California.

Later in the day, the Illinois Democrat delivered a 14-minute speech in shirt sleeves at a campus rally with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles, and just about every other California Democrat who holds office and who could find their way to USC.

Young and old voters arrived at the events with cameras, copies of Obama's new book, and their hopes that he could be the political force that can unify a divided country.

At the African-American Museum, Obama told a story about his 2004 Senate campaign that helps explain his appeal.

He was on a road trip with Richard Durbin, the state's senior senator. "One place we went to was a place called Cairo, Ill.," he said.

Cairo is as far away from Obama's Chicago home district as can be, he explained. "Southern Illinois is the South. . . . The reason why everybody remembers Cairo is because back in the late '60s and early '70s, Cairo was the site of some of the worst racial violence."

But by the end of the campaign swing with Durbin, people in Cairo were sporting Obama buttons and ready to fete the candidate with barbecue.

Everyone at the museum knew how the bigger story unfolded: Obama -- the son of a black father from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas -- electrified the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston as a speaker, won his Senate race, and in two short years catapulted from junior senator to fantasy presidential candidate and Time magazine cover story.

Younger people in the museum crowd said they wanted him to run for president now. Older fans counseled caution.

"He needs some more seasoning -- then there'll be time to run for president," said Quincy Beaver, 84, president of the Martin Luther King Jr. Democratic Club.

Some fretted he could run into trouble if he moves too soon: "I don't trust the powers-that-be not to have other plans for him," said Valaria Lincoln, 72. "I'm afraid for him."

There were no fears among the students who besieged Obama on the USC campus, wearing Democratic buttons. They hoisted cellphone cameras to capture him and Affleck as they appeared to speak on behalf of California Proposition 87, the Clean Alternative Energy Act.

Obama reminded the audience that the proposition is opposed by oil companies. And he spoke of the overdependence on foreign oil. "We're sending $800 million a day to some of the most hostile nations and effectively funding both sides in the war on terror."

"It was nice to have Ben Affleck there," said Alexander Shams, a 16-year-old freshman, "but Barack Obama was the star."

At the rally for the Democratic Party in front of a flag-draped Doheny Library, Obama spoke last, after Villaraigosa and Angelides. Under a cloudless sky, in the bright sun, before hundreds, Obama removed his suit jacket and rolled up his shirt sleeves.

"How you doing, USC?" he called out as the crowd roared in delight. "I'm fired up. I'm so fired up, I had to take off my jacket."

Once more he went over his message: "We're all connected. We have a stake in each other," he said, "despite our much-vaunted individualism."

"There's just one ingredient it's going to take to make it happen on Nov. 7," he continued. "That's all of you."

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