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Obama has history on his mind in key state

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  • Barack Obama battles to take hold of traditionally Republican state
  • Whoever takes Virginia will win 13 electoral college votes
  • Obama supporters express hope he could restore America's reputation
  • Democratic presidential candidate attracting many students to rallies
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By CNN's Simon Hooper
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HARRISONBURG, Virginia -- Barack Obama appeared to have history on his mind as he returned to the battleground state of Virginia for the ninth time since winning the Democratic presidential nomination.

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is attracting a lot of young people to his rallies.

"I just discovered that the last presidential candidate to be here was Stephen Douglas," Obama told a boisterous student-dominated crowd at Harrisonburg's James Madison University. "That's the guy who ran against Abraham Lincoln, if you haven't been following your history."

Entering the final week of an election race that polls and pundits suggest is now his to lose, history may beckon for Obama. For now though, he will have to settle for being the man of the moment.

Thousands braved bitterly cold weather and 40 mph winds for hours for a chance to see him in an 8,000-capacity campus hall. As many again were left outside.

Those lucky enough to get through the doors were soon warming up to an iPod friendly soundtrack featuring the Foo Fighters, Jay-Z and Bruce Springsteen. With hundreds of thousands of young Americans registered to vote for the first time, it seems they even get to choose what goes on the stereo. Follow the campaign trail in Virginia »

Traditionally this scenic slither of forests and hills along Interstate 81 votes Republican. It probably will again next Tuesday -- Obama supporters say they have had campaign signs repeatedly removed from their front yards -- and the fate of Virginia's 13 electoral votes will be decided in more populous areas of the state.

But it is a measure of Obama's confidence and resources that he is now regularly to be found taking his campaign for change deep into unfamiliar territory.

"In this election we can't afford the same games, the same tactics that pit us against each other, make us afraid of one another," he said. "Despite what my opponents might say there are no real or fake parts of this country. There's no city or town that is more pro-America than anywhere else."

High school teacher Kris Vass says he has brought his class down to see the rally. He says he has never seen his students so enthused by politics. Photo See photos of Obama's rally in Harrisonburg »

"He's a figure that we can rally around and really believe in and I think we need that right now. This is one of the most Republican areas of the state and look at the crowd he's brought out here. That says a great deal about his ability to lead and to inspire."

Many supporters express hope that a win for Obama will restore America's reputation in the world. Others want him to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq and to put in place affordable healthcare and college education schemes.

"I'm not afraid of spreading the wealth," says Mary Jo Halstead. "As long as there's plenty for everyone we should all have the opportunity to have heathcare and go to school."

"In one week we can choose hope over fear, unity over division, change over the status quo," says Obama. "In one week we can come together as one nation, one people and once more choose our better history. That's what's at stake." He leaves the stage to the sound of Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered. Video Watch Obama campaign in Harrisonburg »


Can Obama deliver? Sixty-year-old Judy DeMott, one of a few older, wiser heads in the youthful audience, says she is cautiously optimistic. "I know these kids are expecting miracles but it's going to take time. He'll probably have some on the job learning to do but I think he's got the capacity to learn fast. I think he's going to be a lot better for the country and a lot better for the world in general.

"I remember the 60s and this reminds me of how politically involved we all were then. Young people today are too complacent so it's good to see them getting a little bit angry about the way things have been going here."

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