http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/news/election/s_560943.html Obama's odyssey rouses voters By David Brown TRIBUNE-REVIEW Sunday, April 6, 2008 DUNMORE -- In a speech toward the end of his six-day bus blitz across Pennsylvania, Sen. Barack Obama missed a couple of punch lines that had been getting belly laughs all the way from Pittsburgh to Scranton. It appeared the tall, lanky black man with a mesmerizing skill for bringing audiences to their feet might be tiring, finally worn down after barnstorming across the state into the heart of rival Sen. Hillary Clinton's declared home turf. Then he found another gear. Obama, 46, pivoted with a hand in the air, raised the tempo and volume of his voice, and reached deeper for the energy that has propelled him past Clinton in the hunt for the Democratic presidential nomination. With words striking at an unpopular war and tapping the unrest of blue-collar Pennsylvanians worried about the economy, he induced yet another crowd to roar its approval. And this was a mostly white audience in a town just outside of Scranton, where Clinton's father was born and buried. Before Obama set off on the bus tour March 28, public opinion polls showed him trailing Clinton in Pennsylvania by double-digits. As it wrapped up Wednesday in Philadelphia, several polls suggested he significantly narrowed that gap. In an interview during the tour, Obama said he's met enough Pennsylvanians to say Gov. Ed Rendell, a Clinton ally, was wrong when he suggested Obama would be handicapped in the state by "some whites who are probably not ready" to vote for a black candidate. "I have felt completely welcomed," said Obama, who had a black father and white mother. "I think maybe Ed's not giving the people of this state enough credit." The campaign buses bear no placards, but people on the streets and sidewalks of places that dot the journey -- Latrobe, Johnstown, Altoona, Lancaster -- wave instinctively. "This is actually a pretty nice bus," Obama said. "It's nicer than the buses we've had. It's got DirecTV, so we've been watching basketball games when they don't have me on phone calls." The candidate keeps a Snapple green tea, his favorite drink, nearby during the interview. Does he get to nap on the bus between events? "I haven't lately, because we haven't had huge gaps of time between our stops," he said. "Typically, when we have these drives, they've got me on the phone nonstop making calls to people all across the country." He often mentions chicken dinners during rallies, but really, when was the last time Barack Obama had a big helping of something? "They give me, typically, 10 minutes for meals," Obama said. "That's why I call myself the dancing bear. You know, they let you out of your cage, you perform, they bring you back in, they feed you a little bit, give you a little bit of exercise once in a while." "I'm a pretty healthy eater," adds the Illinois senator, who is a slender 6-foot-1. "We get salmon or some sort of fish or chicken breast, rice or potatoes, some broccoli or something. ... I'm not a big snacker. I usually have some almonds and an apple, but otherwise I eat three meals a day." Obama, who gave up smoking before running for president, has talked about the nation's obesity epidemic on the campaign trail. He urged parents to turn off the TV and not allow their children to "eat a bag of potato chips for lunch or Popeye's for breakfast." The road trip wasn't all interviews, news conferences, speeches, rallies and town hall meetings. His scheduler inserted a variety of colorful photo-ops. The candidate sipped Yuengling in Latrobe, toyed with a Slinky in Johnstown, nibbled on cold cuts at Philadelphia's Italian market and bowled with Sen. Bob Casey in Altoona. The bowling stop demonstrated, first, that Obama likes to ham it up with a Saturday night crowd -- so much so that Secret Service agents trailing him became a little snappy -- and, second, that it's a good thing Obama went to Harvard and studied law because he never would have made it as a professional bowler. His final score: 37 (over seven frames). "Bowling clearly is not my strength," he said later at a rally. "All of us have strengths, bowling is not mine." Several people in the crowd shouted, "That's OK!" During a stop in the country, Obama fed a month-old calf with an oversized milk bottle. "She chowed that sucker down," he said. To win laughs on the stump, he talks of "my cousin Dick Cheney," "kissing hundreds of babies" or "eating hundreds of chicken dinners." He's going after every vote. In a Scranton parking lot, the candidate spotted a woman wearing a Hillary Clinton button. "What do I need to do? Do you want me on my knees?" Obama asked Denise Mercuri, a Dunmore pharmacist who had come to hear Obama speak. The cajoling didn't work. Mercuri kept her Clinton button, though she said she likes Obama, too. Still, there are signs he might be winning over those who have yet to make up their minds. Susan Scanland, 50, a geriatric consultant who lives in Clarks Summit, a Scranton suburb, said she was on the fence before she went to Obama's town hall meeting Tuesday. Now she supports him. "I was impressed by his humility," Scanland said. "With government, I think most of us feel a loss of control, like we're standing on the sidelines and things are just happening to us. But he invites all of us to partner with him, and I found that very refreshing."