CHICAGO – Barack Obama (search), the Senate candidate from Illinois who made a splash at the Democratic National Convention, may soon be coming to a town near you.
Since giving the keynote address at the DNC in July, Obama has become a sought-after commodity at national party functions and fund-raisers. With polls showing him well ahead in his race against Republican Alan Keyes (search), the young, Harvard-educated state senator is using his star status to lend a hand to other Democrats.
On Monday alone, Obama is scheduled to fly to Baltimore for his own fund-raiser, then head to Philadelphia to raise money for other Democrats and headline a voter registration rally. Weather permitting, he will end the day in Miami at another get-out-the-vote event.
"Since the day he got in the race, even in the primary, he has proven to be an inspiring candidate," said Cara Morris, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (search).
Obama had raised $9.8 million as of June 30, before his convention speech. His campaign did not provide more recent figures.
For a state legislator in his first national race, Obama has been sorting through an unusual number of invitations to headline events outside of his home state. Either he or Keyes will become the nation's only black senator, giving the race instant buzz.
Obama leads Keyes by 51 percentage points in the race for the seat held by retiring Republican Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (search), according to a Tribune/WGN-TV poll published Sunday. The poll of 700 likely voters found that 68 percent favored Obama and 17 percent supported Keyes. The survey was conducted Sept. 17-20 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Obama calls the hype surrounding his candidacy "a little overblown." But he says he's not opposed to using that hype to try to help Democrats take the Senate on Nov. 2. Republicans control the Senate, 51-48, with one Democratic-leaning independent.
"I'm doing it because I've served in the majority and the minority in the Legislature, and it's a lot more fun serving in the majority," Obama said. "So I want to help in any way that I can to make sure that we've got a Democratically controlled Senate."
Obama recently joined a fund-raising committee, called America's Hope for a Majority (search), with two other Democratic candidates in tight races that could tip the balance of the Senate. Those candidates -- Ken Salazar (search) in Colorado and Betty Castor (search) in Florida -- will appear with Obama on Monday in Philadelphia.
Just this month, Obama has helped the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee raise money in New York and Chicago. He's also made his own fund-raising trips to Los Angeles, Alabama and Martha's Vineyard in recent weeks.
Keyes, a two-time presidential candidate from Maryland who was drafted by Republicans after their primary winner dropped out amid a sex scandal, criticizes Obama's frequent out-of-state appearances.
"He thinks the people of the state are just his stepping stone for other ambitions," Keyes said.
Obama said his time spent campaigning across Illinois far outweighs his trips out of state, and his job in the Senate would be to work for Illinois. But it can't hurt that he's gaining national recognition and a few IOUs, he said.
"Should we finish the job here in this campaign and I win the election, I think that I will have a higher profile than the average junior senator, and I think that can be beneficial in terms of leveraging issues and resources for the state," Obama said.