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AP - Obama Woos Rural Iowa, Using Ill. Lesson

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Location: Oquawka, Il


AP - Obama Woos Rural Iowa, Using Ill. Lesson

Christopher Wills

Barack Obama is working hard to persuade rural voters in Iowa farm country they should support a big-city black lawyer with a strange name.

He has done it before — three years ago, in neighboring Illinois, when he was running for the Senate.

Here in little Henderson County, just across the Mississippi from Iowa, only 30 people voted for him in the Democratic primary in 2004. The overwhelmingly white, blue-collar voters knew almost nothing about Obama.

"They didn't even think of him," recalls the county Democratic chairman, Richard Bigger.

They were thinking of him by the time of the general election, after Obama's spotlight speech at the Democratic National Convention and after he made a point of aggressively courting voters outside the Chicago area.

He ended up getting 2,700 votes in the county, more than twice as many as his Republican opponent, commentator Alan Keyes.

Obama's presidential campaign cannot count on a repeat of the circumstances in 2004, when he faced a weak GOP opponent after the original Senate nominee dropped out.

But he can bring to Iowa some of the hard work, strategy and charisma that helped him in Illinois.

In the White House race, Obama is counting heavily on January's caucuses in Iowa. The Illinois senator is in a close race in the state with New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards.

Obama has 31 field offices in Iowa, 10 more than Clinton. He is building relationships with community leaders who can influence voters, a strategy that helped him in Illinois. He also is bringing Illinois supporters — including Henderson County's Bigger — to sing his praises.

His campaign is stealing a page from Edwards' presidential run in 2004, trying to get Obama to as many rural communities as possible before Clinton shows up.

On a recent day, Obama spoke to hundreds of people in a park in the northern Iowa city of New Hampton, where a golden corn field ready for harvest served as a backdrop.

The candidate commented on the fine Iowa scenery as storm clouds hovered overhead and a cool breeze swept through. He told his listeners, seated on folding chairs, that many in the U.S. feel "the system isn't working for us."

On Friday, in Indianola at the county fairgrounds, he used humor to soften the charge that he is too inexperienced. "Sometimes I think it's because I look young," Obama said. "I got these big ears. I look like Opie."

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