BOSTON – Chicago Mayor Richard Daley (search) wants Barack Obama (search) to bring federal money home to Illinois. Nancy Cohen thinks he can help the country heal racial wounds. And Sandy Henke just wants to see him in the White House before she dies.
Obama left the Democratic National Convention (search) carrying expectations that could overwhelm a veteran politician, let alone someone still trying to win his first term in the Senate.
"There is so much hope placed in him. It's a heavy burden for Barack," said Sen. Richard Durbin (search), who introduced Obama before his star-making keynote address at the convention.
Durbin said Obama "can't possibly" understand the pressures he will face if elected in November, becoming the Senate's only black member and just the fifth black senator in history.
"But I think he senses as he travels around just how important his candidacy is."
Obama says he isn't letting the pressure get to him.
"I don't feel that, if I'm lucky enough to get elected, I've got to suddenly do everything for everybody," he said last week.
"I think the voters of Illinois have a good sense of what the job entails. They don't expect me, overnight as a freshman senator, to solve the world's problems. They expect me to work hard, speak up forcefully for the interests of Illinois," he said.
For now, Obama is focusing on his campaign. After a whirlwind week at the convention, where he hit a new level of national fame, he was returning to Illinois for a tour of the state, with his wife and children alongside.
But even that suggested a man under pressure to do it all. He planned to make 17 appearances in the first two days alone — everywhere from an elephant's grave to a boat race — and still hoped to have time to take his daughters swimming.
Obama, a 42-year-old state senator from Chicago, started inching his way onto the national stage when he won the Illinois Senate primary, grabbing 53 percent of the vote in a seven-person race by attracting both black and white voters. He got more attention when his Republican opponent, already trailing by 22 points in one poll, dropped out amid a sex scandal. Republican leaders said they hoped to pick a challenger this week.
Then Obama truly hit the big time when he delivered a keynote address that thrilled and touched the delegates, often bringing them to their feet.
"There's not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America. There's the United States of America," Obama, the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas, told the cheering crowd. "We are one people."
He walked off the stage a new Democratic star.
For the rest of the convention Obama was mobbed wherever he went. A boisterous crowd at one event wouldn't let him speak until he stood on a chair so people in the back of the room could see him. After his brief remarks, one woman shouted to the Hawaii-born politician "Hana hou! Hana hou! — Hawaiian for "More! More!" Another shoved herself up against him as he spoke to reporters, ignoring a frustrated aide who asked her to give Obama a little breathing room.
People grabbed his hand to shake it and shoved hats at him to sign. Reporters demanded his views on slave reparations, Iraq, education, John Kerry. Congressmen introduced themselves. Candidates from other states asked for his help.
"I hope I live long enough to see him become president," said Sandy Henke, 52, of Eau Claire, Wis. "He is what an American is."
Another convention attendee, Nancy Cohen of Brighton, Mass., said Obama is a man of integrity who could help bridge gaps between the races.
"When someone comes from a biracial background, they don't see the world divided," she said. "They're much more in tune to uniting and keeping people together on the same page."
Many Illinois delegates are looking for something more concrete.
The Associated Press questioned half the state's 186 delegates about what they want the next senator, whether a Democrat or a Republican, to focus on. They overwhelmingly said health care, followed by bringing federal money to Illinois, improving transportation and helping create jobs.
Daley said Obama's first priority has to be bringing home the bacon. "I don't care what politics you're in, you need money going back to your state to keep people working," he said.
Obama would rather focus on discussing such bread-and-butter issues than contemplating his emerging status among the country's current black political leaders. He said he welcomes the chance to be a role model for black children and to help shape discussions "of how we move away from a racially polarized society."
But, so far at least, he has steered clear from sweeping pronouncements on race.
"Ultimately, what the average guy on the street cares about is, how am I paying the bills, how am I saving for my kid's college education," he said. "That's what really matters to voters, black and white."
Once he completes his own road trip, Obama is likely to be asked to campaign for Kerry in competitive states, given his burgeoning popularity and his so-far unchallenged contest in Illinois for the seat being vacated by Republican Sen. Peter Fitzgerald. Illinois is considered a Democratic-leaning state where Bush will have a tough time competing.
Obama said early in the convention week that he didn't think he would have time to travel out-of-state, but softened that stance later.