Obama cranking up charismatic heat

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HARRISONBURG, Va. — After 21 months of running for the White House, by this time next week Barack Obama will know whether he is the president-elect or the junior senator from Illinois facing an indeterminate sentence over at the Hart Senate Office Building.

Virginia and more centrally, Pennsylvania, are key, and Obama stumped in both Tuesday.

The Keystone State is John McCain’s last stand.

As Obama spoke at James Madison University in the Shenandoah Valley, where the fall foliage will soon peak, I was struck by how little-changed the essential Obama message of change has been.

In the final stage of the campaign, he is back to turning on the charismatic heat, which had been tamped down for a while in order to quell snickers about him running for Messiah in Chief.

Obama started with hope and change. He’s ending with hope and change.

“Despite what my opponents may say, there are no real or fake parts of this country,” said Obama, a reference to Sarah “I’m from a small town” Palin.

“There’s no city or town that is more pro-American than anywhere else. We’re all pro-America, we’re one nation, all of us proud, all of us patriots,” he said.

“Virginia, that’s what hope is, that thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better is waiting behind around the bend, that insists there are better days ahead if we’re willing to work for it,” Obama said as the cheers from the mainly student crowd in the gym reached a crescendo.

Carefully choosing words

Earlier, at Widener University in Chester, Pa., he offered a line that has been with him since the beginning.

“Change,” said Obama, as if for the first time, comes “not from the top down but from the bottom up.”

As it became clearer in recent weeks that Obama will likely be the next president, he has been more careful with his words, concerned, his aides said, that as the economic crisis worsened, a wrong phrase could drive markets down further around the globe.

If Obama indeed becomes president, one reason will be that he has raised enough cash — more than $600 million — to bankroll ad wars and a grass-roots-and-Netroots army everywhere, not just in swing states.

At 7 Chicago time tonight, Obama will deliver a penultimate, 30-minute rationale for his presidency — from battleground Florida — televised on NBC, CBS, Univision, BET, Fox and MSNBC.

At 11 p.m. — timed for the top of the evening news — Obama will be at an Orlando rally with Bill Clinton in their first joint appearance.

Now that’s a change.

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