NEWTON, Iowa -- Meet Barack Obama, man of the people.
The Illinois senator is weaving new threads about his life into his stump speech, recalling a time not long ago when he was a member of the beleaguered middle class -- just like so many of the Jan. 3 caucusgoers he's battling Hillary Rodham Clinton and John Edwards to win over.
Speaking before a large, enthusiastic crowd at a local high school gymnasium here, Obama described the ordinary problems, like daycare and housing costs, that he and his wife Michelle confronted as recently as five or six years ago, before he was elected to the U.S. Senate and became a best selling author.
"We were still struggling with all the student loans we had to pay off after law school, because neither of us were rich," he said. "Our parents couldn't provide us with all that education. We had to borrow. We hadn't started a college fund yet for our kids. We hadn't started saving for retirement. We had some credit cards we had to deal with. We were living in a small condo that was getting a little too small for our two kids."
People nodded their heads. "I was doing the grocery shopping," Obama continued. "Michelle shopped at Target. She does still shop at Target. She really loves Target." He quoted his wife telling him, "I think one of the reasons you'd make a good president now is...we're not that far from being normal."
In one of his standard riffs, Obama asserts that his career choices -- community organizer, civil rights lawyer, elected official -- underscores his commitment to public service and to bringing about political and social change. He always mentions the lucrative job offers he turned down, but today he added a new line.
"That's why I didn't become a trial lawyer," Obama told the Newton audience -- a clear dig at Edwards, who made millions in the courtroom.