Barack Obama came to downtown Los Angeles this morning and was introduced as all but the reincarnation of Robert Kennedy.

Congressman Xavier Becerra, who represents East Los Angeles – the historic center of L.A.'s immense Latino community -- reminded the crowd at Los Angeles Trade-Technical College that, "40 years ago we saw a contest here in California. A young man named Robert F. Kennedy came to California." And, as he brought Obama to the stage, Becerra continued, "Give it up -- as if it were 40 years ago and you were watching Bobby Kennedy building an America of black, brown and white, telling us we could transcend our racial differences."

Obama raised no parallels himself, not surprisingly, but was eager to cite his own work on behalf of blacks and Latinos together. As a Chicago community organizer at a time when the city's giant steel mills were shutting down, he recalled, the impact was greatest on black workers and on the Mexican-Americans who traveled across the country for the work that the mills had offered. "People lost their jobs, communities had their stores boarded up, and people turned on one another." He then spoke of the job training and better schools and community development programs he had agitated for. "This is not just the rhetoric of a campaign," he said, in echo of John Edwards, "it's the cause of my life."

Obama affirmed his support for a path to legalization for undocumented immigrants and for the Dream Act, but also turned repeatedly to the commonality of de facto black and Latino exclusion from the full benefits of American life. He quoted a woman he'd met on the campaign trail who had despaired of getting her daughter's school to remedy a problem and who told him, "schools aren't designed for people like us. Health care isn't designed for people like us," Obama continued, "the economy isn't designed for people like us. This is our country," he said, his voice rising, "America should be designed for people like us!"

How Obama will do here next Tuesday among "people like us" -- Latinos in particular -- remains an open question. The Obama operation in Latino L.A. is scrambling to get itself in place; an office on L.A.'s eastside was opened just this week. In a city where Latino mobilization has most effectively been undertaken by the union movement, the unions that matter the most don't have a dog in this fight. The California SEIU had endorsed John Edwards, and the L.A. County Federation of Labor -- the AFL-CIO in Los Angeles -- hasn't endorsed at all, of course, as the AFL-CIO holds back until a nominee is selected. Hillary is clearly the frontrunner both in Latino California and California generally, but polls do show Obama closing, and tomorrow morning, Ted Kennedy comes to East L.A. to stump for Obama. Among "older Mexican-Americans who remember Bobby's campaign," said Maria Elena Durazo, the head of the L.A. County Fed on temporary leave to work for Obama, the evocations of Bobby (who campaigned alongside Cesar Chavez, and who was the first major American pol to back the United Farm Workers) can only help.

--Harold Meyerson

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