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Obama takes it slow in Pennsylvania

  • Story Highlights
  • Sen. Barack Obama launched 6-day bus trip across Pennsylvania last weekend
  • Stops included a bowling alley, factory, hot dog stand and a dairy barn
  • Obama favors more intimate events instead of large rallies on bus tour
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By Chris Welch
CNN Political Producer
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Editor's note: CNN's Chris Welch has been "embedded" with Sen. Barack Obama's campaign for nearly three months. He filed this report Monday while traveling with Obama across Pennsylvania.

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Cows in the Pennsylvania State dairy barn get their licks in on the press Sunday.

LANCASTER, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- It's just like Iowa --only different.

Mid-way through Barack Obama's six-day bus tour across Pennsylvania, it's hard not to think of Iowa.

The rural landscape, the chilly weather and even Obama's stump speech bear an eerie resemblance to those first days on the campaign trail.

However, on this tour -- the first multi-day bus tour since the Illinois senator's days of campaigning in South Carolina -- the pace has slowed. Obama even admitted Saturday that he is campaigning at a more "leisurely" pace these days, because the April 22 contest is still weeks away. Video Watch Obama bowl, feed a calf »

It's also probably fair to say that there isn't as much at stake here as there was in Iowa -- the first primary of the season. Pennsylvania, while often called a "big state," may not have the kind of power of the early states.

But it's not just a slower schedule that makes this tour unique -- it's more retail politics. Instead of massive rallies, events have generally been cozier; more personal.

"It's just hard to get questions and have a lot of interaction," Obama said of the arena-style events that are more akin to rock concerts than political events.

"Off the record" stops or OTRs have been common. These quick trips have traditionally been to restaurants or local factories where Obama often meets with workers during shift changes.

On Saturday, Obama had only one public event. The rest? All "off the record" stops.

He greeted employees who make the wire for the Slinky toys, ate a hotdog and fries at a local diner, and bowled with Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey, demonstrating bowling certainly isn't his strong point.

"There was an eight year-old who was giving me tips," Obama said of his bowling to a crowd Monday morning.

Campaign aides say the Illinois senator enjoys these stops particularly at this time of year because it gives him a chance to catch up with NCAA basketball games he's missing by talking with local residents. He likes to use basketball as a starter to work his way into a chat about, say, the economy or the war, aides say.

Sunday included a stop at the dairy barns at Penn State University's agricultural facilities, where Obama fed a bottle of milk to a calf. Reporters tagging along were licked by the random bovine poking their heads out of the stalls.

The trip to the farm was particularly interesting because reporters, staffers, and even Secret Service agents were forced to wear large blue plastic booties that, we were told, were to prevent us from bringing bacteria in to the facilities. However, Obama and Casey -- the couple have rarely been seen apart from since Casey's Friday endorsement -- stuck out like sore thumbs in their new Timberland boots.

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Obama defended his not wearing what one reporter described as the "foot condoms" by saying their shoes were bought specifically for the occasion and were brand new, thus still free of bacteria.

But with that, plus one more at a local sports bar later in the day, Obama held only two larger public events. That's nothing compared to a typical day on the road in Iowa, or even New Hampshire or South Carolina, where five events a day felt like the norm.

Not that you'll ever hear reporters complain. We certainly don't miss being on the road from 7 a.m. until 1 a.m. A more leisurely pace suits us fine. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

All About Barack ObamaPennsylvaniaBob Casey

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