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From Scripted to Spontaneous on the Obama Train

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By Shailagh Murray
HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Barack Obama wrapped up his whistle-stop train tour with a final rally here tonight, ending a day of striking visuals and stark rhetoric in advance of Tuesday's primary.

Obama is a bona fide political celebrity, and tickets to his events are often snapped up days in advance. Hundreds of people typically show up outside anyway, eager to catch a glimpse. Small towns have been off limits because the venues they offer are too small. But high school and college gymnasiums? Obama has seen quite a few.

The five rallies Obama held today, in contrast, took place outside rail stations along the route from Philadelphia to Harrisburg, and they had an unusually spontaneous feel. In Paoli, Obama's speech could be heard from two blocks away, and people running Saturday errands wandered over to the station to listen. In Downington, some showed up with their dogs, or in jogging clothes. People who lived nearby sat on their front porches and watched from upstairs windows.

Obama was clearly enjoying himself. He grinned like a kid all day, calling out "all aboard" to his staff and press corps and describing the "toot-toot" sound of the horn to the Harrisburg crowd. "It was incredible fun," Obama exclaimed.

But he was a candidate on a mission: to shut down Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's candidacy as quickly as possible, starting with a strong showing in Pennsylvania on Tuesday.

"The fact is, she has a different idea about what is at stake in this election than I do," Obama said in Lancaster, part of a 10-minute riff that drew a sharp contrast with his Democratic rival. The nomination is within Obama's reach, and he was leaving no margin for error. "She is comfortable with the way Washington works," Obama continued. "She just wants to change political parties. I want to change how politics is done in Washington."

In Harrisburg, he added this line, "Sen. Clinton would be vastly better than George Bush would be, but that's a very low bar."

By Web Politics Editor  |  April 19, 2008; 9:30 PM ET
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