NEW YORK — Barack Obama’s efforts to shift attention away from the fiery remarks of his former pastor were set back Friday with the broadcast of an interview in which the preacher says his quotes condemning America were taken out of context by people “for some very devious reasons.”
The interview comes as Obama, the front-runner in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, is trying to bounce back from a defeat in Tuesday’s Pennsylvania primary.
His rival, Hillary Clinton, has argued that she is better positioned and more experienced to withstand bare-knuckle Republican attacks ahead of the November presidential election. Her supporters have pointed to Obama’s relationship with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright as one of his biggest vulnerabilities if he is the nominee.
Last month Obama made a well-received speech on racism in America in a bid to defuse the attention given to Wright, who has said in sermons that America brought the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks on itself and is “damned” by God for its history of slavery and racism.
But the issue hasn’t gone away. Republicans in North Carolina, which holds its primary May 6, have already begun airing ads featuring Wright in an attempt to taint the state’s Democratic gubernatorial candidates because of their support for Obama. The ads call Obama “too extreme for North Carolina.”
Wright’s remarks were was again receiving attention on cable news channels Friday — along with excerpts from the PBS television interview being broadcast that evening. The interview is the first the pastor has given since video of his preaching gained national attention in March.
Wright said that publicizing sound bites of sermons in which he condemned U.S. policies was “unfair” and “devious,” and done by people who know nothing about his church, according to the excerpts.
Wright said that as an activist at Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ, he is accustomed to being “at odds with the establishment,” but the response to the sermons has been “very, very unsettling.”
Among the most remarked upon sound bites was Wright proclaiming from the pulpit “God damn America” for its racism. He accused the government of flooding black neighborhoods with drugs.
“The blowing up of sermons preached 15, seven, six years ago and now becoming a media event, not the full sermon, but the snippets from the sermon … having made me the target of hatred, yes, that is something very new,” Wright told “Bill Moyers’ Journal.”
Republican nominee-in-waiting Sen. John McCain has distanced himself from the North Carolina Republican Party’s use of the Wright ads, calling them offensive. He has asked party officials not to air them, but they have refused.
Despite the ads, Obama is favored to win North Carolina, which has a large black, Democratic electorate. Black voters have strongly supported Obama, who is seeking to become the first black U.S. president.
The North Carolina primary offers 115 national convention delegates, the largest prize among the nine contests remaining. Indiana, with 72 delegates available, also holds its contest May 6.
Clinton and Obama campaigned Friday in Indiana, while McCain was to speak to a college class in Little Rock, Arkansas.
In the overall race for the nomination, Obama leads with 1,724.5 delegates, including superdelegates — unelected party officials who can vote as they please. Clinton had 1,593.5, according to an Associated Press tally. It takes 2,025 to win the nomination.
According to a WSBT-South Bend Tribune poll released Thursday, the two are neck-and-neck in Indiana, with Obama at 48 percent and Clinton at 47 percent. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 5 percentage points.
Clinton, who has fallen far behind Clinton in fundraising, has seen a boost following her victory in Pennsylvania. She raised US$10 million (euro6.3 million) in the 24 hours after the primary.
The long and often bitter contest between Clinton and Obama has raised concerns among Democrats that they may be hurting their chances of defeating McCain — despite the unpopular presidency of George W. Bush, a Republican.
On Thursday, McCain sought to distance himself from Bush, saying he would never have allowed the government to respond in the “disgraceful way” it did after Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans three years ago.
McCain faces the difficult task of maintaining the party’s base while putting space between himself and Bush. In New Orleans, McCain went out of his way to remind voters how badly they were served by the Bush White House after devastating hurricane.
“Never again, never again, will a disaster of this nature be handled in the disgraceful way it was handled,” McCain repeatedly pledged.
Drawing a sharp contrast to Bush, McCain said he would have landed his plane “at the nearest Air Force Base and come over personally.”
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