WASHINGTON—Barack Obama has shown a Midas touch in so many different ways that it's easy to forget he's just another new senator.
In the past year, the freshman from Illinois has becomeabest-selling author, a millionaire, a Grammy Award winner and an important fund-raiser for Democrats.
Altogether, Obama has helped raise $6.5 million for his political action committee and other Democratic candidates, party committees and state parties, as he crisscrosses the country from New Jersey to Virginia to Florida.
He brought in about $800,000 with an e-mail message sent out on MoveOn.org on behalf of Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., who at age 88 is seeking a ninth term in office.
"He said some nice things about me," Byrd recalled. "Anywhere he comes in West Virginia we will give the man a great reception. He's a wonderful man."
Some of Obama's fund-raising activities are part of his job as a vice chair of the DemocraticSenatorial Campaign Committee.
"These are trips not initiated by me; these are trips that other people think will be helpful," Obama said, noting he has family and political obligations in Illinois. "For every invitation I've accepted, I've turned down 100."
"I've been incredibly blessed," he said in an interview with The Associated Press. "My attitude is as long as I work hard, as long as I operate honestly, with integrity, the worst that can happen to me is that I can lose an election."
Being the Senate's sole Black senator and only the fifth in history, Obama also has been the focal point of many in his Democratic Party and elsewhere who wonder who will become the nation's first Black president or vice president.
"The party needs him and, for all I know, the nation needs him," said Stephen Hess, a professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University and former speechwriter for President Dwight D. Eisenhower. "There hasn't been an African American Democrat who has had an appeal broadly beyond his ethnic group."
Senate Democrats and Republicans alike, who often use "gentleman" and "humble" and "hard working" to describe Obama, cite the 44-year-old married father of two small girls as a senator destined for bigger roles in the years ahead.
"I think people look at him and think he's clearly, clearly going to continue to grow in influence in the Senate and in national politics," said Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio.
"I've been here 31 years and seen a small handful of people that have made as much an impression as he has, and he has done it by working hard," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.
At home in Illinois, state Sen. Kirk Dillard, the GOP chair of DuPage County in Chicago's suburbs, said he has been impressed with Obama since they successfully worked together on campaign finance reform years ago in the Illinois General Assembly.
"Sen. Obama would be nothing without his incredible intellect and charisma," he said.
Explaining Obama's popularity, Dillard said, "I believe Illinois and America are looking for a hero and somebody who gives us hope, as we saw at Coretta King's funeral, that we can be a color-blind society." Dillard added that "It's not just based on race. It's based on we want a hero in general."
Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., a former Black Panther who trounced challenger Obama in a 2000 primary, now praises Obama for doing an outstanding job for Illinois and being a "regular guy" who is a regular at Congressional Black Caucus meetings.
"He represents the promise America is supposed to be, and somehow, despite all those obstacles, he somehow squeezed through the crack in the wall that separates him from other Blacks," he said.
Obama,when asked if he feels burdened by the great expectations people have for him, replied: "I remind them that's a pretty high-class problem to have. I remind them that the people who are burdened don't have health care and see their kid get sick."
In the trenches of the Senate, Obama, on the Veterans Affairs Committee, has worked to improve the disability pay for Illinois' military veterans after news reports showed that the state has been ranked nearly last in that category for decades.
With Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he has traveled to Russia and elsewhere and worked in bipartisan fashion to address the need of destroying surplus and unguarded conventional and nuclear weapons.
With only a few months on the job, as a member of the Senate Environmentand PublicWorks Committee he was credited by House SpeakerDennis Hastert, R-Ill., and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., with playing a key role in winning transportation projects for Illinois.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who serves with Obama on Foreign Relations and Public Works, said the Illinoisan has been very successful in committee, spending much of his early time listening and watching others.
"He studies his work; he picks his issues and builds consensus," she said.
Last week, Obama and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. got in a brush-up as they exchanged letters on how they should be moving toward lobbyist ethics reform — an issue where the Democraticleadership named Obama as their point man. McCain accused Obama of turning partisan on an issue where he claimed he would be nonpartisan. The argument apparently was resolved with a smile and backslap from Obama at a congressional hearing.
Rush, in sizing up the loser he faced six years ago with the winner of today, said: "Barack had an edge when he ran against me. ... He's much more seasoned (now)."
— The Associated Press