SIMI VALLEY, CALIF. -- Early last Friday morning, Democratic White House hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), dressed in a T-shirt and sweat pants, entered an elevator in a Columbia, S.C., hotel heading toward the fitness center.
With him were two men in suits, employees of Global Security Services LLC, the private Severna Park, Md., firm hired by Obama's campaign to provide him with security.
On Thursday, the security around Obama was elevated to a much higher level, with Obama placed under the full-time protection of the Secret Service, confirmed agency spokesman Eric Zahren.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said he got the ball rolling for Obama to get a Secret Service detail after hearing of some "evidence" -- Durbin declined to specify -- that he said was "worrisome."
Several sources said there was not a single incident or specific threat that triggered the request. Obama is swarmed by crowds at events and often finds himself surrounded by hundreds of strangers.
Obama's family has been nervous about his safety for some time and Obama talked openly about the concerns of his wife, Michelle, during an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times editorial board last December.
"Being shot, obviously, that is the least-attractive option," Obama said then.
The Secret Service detail was authorized by Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff after the recommendation of a panel made up of the top House and Senate GOP and Democratic leaders. Durbin, the assistant majority leader, said he approached Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) several weeks ago about getting a Secret Service detail for Obama.
Obama, if elected, would be the first black president. Durbin said "the sad reality" in America is "that many times, an African-American candidate is more vulnerable." Last year, Obama's half-sister Auma told Elle magazine, "There are crazy people in America as well, with crazy ideas. And at the end of the day, what matters is that he's a black man. The history of America is quite violent."
With the first primary and caucus votes not taking place until January, the Secret Service protection for Obama is coming at the earliest stage since the Secret Service started being responsible for guarding candidates in 1968.
Michelle Obama will not have her own detail, but the Secret Service's around-the-clock protection will extend some coverage to the Obama home in Chicago. On Thursday, while Obama spent part of the day in New York, agents with buzz cuts and dark glasses stood guard at his Kenwood mansion.
"Some of what comes along with the Secret Service is visible; some of it is not,'' Zahren said.