HARVEY, Ill. – Sen. Barack Obama sounded more like a preacher than a politician on Monday when he brought thousands of faithful admirers to their feet during appearances honoring Martin Luther King Jr.
But Obama didn't deliver the one thing the crowd clearly wanted: a declaration that the nation's only black U.S. senator would run for president.
"I didn't want to use this day to indicate my plans because I am humbled by what Dr. King accomplished," said the Illinois Democrat, who told reporters he would make an announcement about a possible presidential bid "very soon."
"I don't think that whatever my political plans are, are comparable to the heroic struggles he went through," he said. "And I don't want to draw a false parallel."
That didn't stop others from dropping not-so-subtle hints about a presidential campaign by the first-term senator, who has become an early favorite for the Democratic nomination.
At the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition's annual King scholarship breakfast, Rev. Jesse Jackson introduced Obama with an approving reference, even saying a "new president is in the house."
"It's a long, nonstop line between the march in Selma in 1965 and the inauguration in Washington in 2009," said Jackson, the coalition's founder and a one-time presidential candidate himself.
During a gospel-tinged church service in Harvey, a community south of Chicago, congregation members screamed "We love you!" A seven-member choir sang a song with the lyrics: "Barack. Barack. We're going to take him to the top."
The senator, whose bathing suit-clad picture recently appeared in People magazine, even had a gaggle of screaming fans surround his SUV.
"I really hope he runs for president," said Shanya Ingram, 44, of Ford Heights, who clutched an autographed copy of Obama's autobiography after hearing him deliver a 30-minute speech at St. Mark Cathedral. "I'm glad I brought my granddaughter to hear what he was saying."
At the lectern, Obama demurred.
"I've gotten a little attention lately, but the fact of the matter is all I do is stand on the shoulders of others," he said.
He focused on the slain civil rights leader's life and the progress the nation has made toward civil rights since his assassination in 1968.
Obama also said more money should be spent rehabilitating economically depressed communities like Harvey, instead of paying to continue the war in Iraq.
"Some folks were surprised I was coming to Harvey. But as I recall, Dr. King wasn't hanging out in Manhattan, Dr. King wasn't hanging out in Beverly Hills," he said. "We'd do well to remember that before he was a leader of men, he was a servant of God."
Obama has gained national attention since 2005 when he was sworn into office. He recently has made appearances in key primary states and according to several Democrats, he also has hired policy, research and press staff for a campaign to be run from Chicago.
While he said he had yet to make up his mind about a presidential campaign, Obama called for the gradual removal of troops from Iraq and increased civic activism.
"There is not doubt we have made progress, and there's no doubt things have gotten better," he said. "The problem is, better isn't good enough."