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Obama tours Midwest ahead of convention

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. -- Barack Obama was speaking to a Wisconsin barbecue Sunday afternoon, but that is not who one Minnesotan saw. "Every time I see him, I see Paul Wellstone," Komi Kdopre-Doh of Minneapolis said after Obama spoke to nearly 400 Wisc...

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. -- Barack Obama was speaking to a Wisconsin barbecue Sunday afternoon, but that is not who one Minnesotan saw.

"Every time I see him, I see Paul Wellstone," Komi Kdopre-Doh of Minneapolis said after Obama spoke to nearly 400 Wisconsin and Minnesota Democrats for precisely 30 minutes.

Obama, the Illinois senator who accepts the Democratic presidential nomination Thursday night, offers many of his supporters the same style of charisma the Minnesota senator did before he died in an airplane crash nearly six years ago.

"We need to have dreams," Kdopre-Doh said.

The 33-year-old immigrant from Togo, in West Africa, was among those who received a special invitation to hear Obama speak at Gun and Rod Park along the Chippewa River in Eau Claire. It was Obama's second stop en route to the Democratic National Convention in Denver.

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His Sunday event was a stark contrast to the one he faces Thursday, where he is expected to address 75,000 people in a football stadium, along with millions across the country via television, radio and the Internet.

In many ways, Kdopre-Doh was typical of Obama's supporters -- he sounded more like a rock star fan than a political backer.

Bonne Roemhildt of Stillwater was much the same.

"He even touched me on the shoulder," she ex-claimed as Obama spent more than half an hour mingling with the crowd after his speech.

Roemhildt talked about how Obama came from a poor family, like many of those in his audience.

"He speaks from the heart," she said. "He's been there."

Obama urged those in the Eau Claire park to follow this week's convention.

"You will get a sense of who I am," he said. "I think you will find out I'm a lot like you."

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Some in the audience said they were disappointed Sen. Joe Biden from Delaware was not with Obama. On Saturday, Obama introduced the veteran senator as his running mate.

Still, Minnesotans who arrived in Denver over the weekend were thrilled with the selection. Mike Sundin of Esko was among those who approved.

Sundin, a painter and Carlton County Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party official, said Biden's many years in the Senate make him "an excellent pick." Sundin also said he likes that Biden is tough, adding Biden's foreign policy background is impressive.

"There's so many people that were wishing that Hillary (Clinton) would have been the pick, but I really have to commend him on his decision," Sundin said of Obama, who announced his decision early Saturday in an e-mail and text message to supporters. "There's a lot of qualified, good people that could have been it, and I think Joe Biden is going to round out the ticket well."

Republicans and some political analysts were quick to characterize the selection as merely a safe pick for Obama, that the Illinois senator chose Biden to supplement his own inexperience in foreign affairs.

"Anyone who says that doesn't know Joe Biden," said U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who spoke with the running mate by phone Sunday. "I think it shows incredible strength from Sen. Obama because he picked somebody who wasn't a 'yes' man."

Minnesotans will like Biden, Klobuchar said, in part because of his working-class roots. Klobuchar said she told her colleague his Pennsylvania background reminds her of northern Minnesota, "mostly the Iron Range."

Klobuchar said Biden told her he looks forward to campaigning in Minnesota.

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The political world's focus will be on Denver this week, and as the convention begins today delegates said it was smart for Obama to wait until just a few days ago to announce his running mate.

"The timing's important in that it's good to have some healthy anticipation going into the convention," said Ashleigh Leitch of Willmar, a 21-year-old alternate delegate.

Leitch said Biden's foreign policy background is important and his debate skills will help during the campaign.

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