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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Debbie Elliott.

You may have thought he was already running, but today Barack Obama made it official, invoking the image of another adopted son of Illinois who ran for and became president.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois): Divided we are bound to fail, but the life of a tall, gangly, self-made Springfield lawyer tells us that a different future is possible. He tells us that there is power in words. He tells us that there's power in conviction, that beneath all the differences of race and region, faith and station, we are one people.

ELLIOTT: Senator Obama made his announcement outside the Old State Capitol in Springfield, Illinois. He then took his campaign to Iowa.

NPR's Mara Liasson is traveling with the senator, and joins me now. Mara, how far did Senator Obama take this Lincoln analogy?

MARA LIASSON: About as far as he could, Debbie. He of course stood in the shadow of the Old State Capitol; as he said, that's where Lincoln once called on a divided House to stand together. And of course Obama's message is also about unifying and bridging partisan divisions.

He also used the Lincoln analogy to suggest that Lincoln didn't have much legislative experience either. Barack Obama only has two years in the Senate. He said, I know I haven't spent a lot of time learning the ways of Washington, but I've been there long enough to know that the ways of Washington must change.

ELLIOTT: Senator Obama just held a town meeting there in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. What happened?

LIASSON: Well, he got an incredible crowd. Thousands of people turned out at the JFK High School in Cedar Rapids, another good analogy for Senator Obama. And of course he was introduced by what can only be called a worshipful interview, where the moderator asked him, how does it feel to be compared to JFK everywhere you turn?

And - but he did get a lot of questions, and of course the very first one was about Iraq, which is what animates a lot of Democratic primary voters here. He talked about his plan to get combat troops out of Iraq by March 31, 2008. But he did say some interesting things.

He said, it's not that I want to throw in the towel. I just don't want them - troops to stay there in a war that's not working. He said it's important that we be at least as careful getting troops out as we were careless getting them in. So I think even thought he's clearly against the war and for getting troops out, he's trying to strike a balance there.

ELLIOTT: Now, this campaigning is happening so early. How long until this race is sewn up?

LIASSON: Well, you know, the Iowa caucuses are about 11 months from now, so it's certainly not going to be wrapped up before then. But it's not only that everything's happening earlier. It's just that things are so much bigger and intense.

Barack Obama gets a rock star reception wherever he goes. Five hundred reporters were accredited to cover his announcement speech in Springfield. We flew here in a 757. You know, in the old days, the early primary process was called the one-car caravan. It was the candidate and one staff member and maybe a few straggling reporters.

Now that's completely changed. And Barack Obama himself said, look, I'm going to be coming back to Cedar Rapids again and again, and hopefully the novelty will wear off and we can meet in smaller groups in living rooms. I think that if Barack Obama can pack his supporters into a living room, you're going to be in a lot of trouble.

ELLIOTT: NPR's Mara Liasson with Senator Barack Obama in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Thank you, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you, Debbie.

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