Wright brings race issue back to '08 race
Obama's former pastor launched a public-relations blitz.
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Wright, who is retiring this year as pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ, a black megachurch on Chicago's South Side, led Obama to Christianity 20 years ago when Obama was a young community organizer there. Wright married Barack and Michelle Obama and baptized their two daughters.Skip to next paragraph
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Obama has said he sharply disagrees with Wright's portrayal of American government as racist, corrupt, and murderous. But he said in his speech last month that Wright had been "like family to me," "as imperfect as he may be," and sought to put Wright's comments in the context of an older generation of African-Americans embittered by painful firsthand memories of discrimination.
Obama said Sunday that Wright had not consulted him before going public last week but said he understood his former pastor's motivations.
"He is somebody who has obviously been the subject of some pretty sharp attacks over the last month," Obama told Fox News Sunday. "And it's understandable that somebody, after an entire career of service, would want to defend themselves."
In the Pennsylvania primary last week, Obama won 90 percent of the black vote and 37 percent of whites, according to exit polls. But in his Fox interview, he dismissed race as a problem for his campaign.
"Is race still a factor in our society? Yes. I don't think anybody would deny that," he said. "Is that going to be the determining factor in a general election? No, because I'm absolutely confident that the American people, what they're looking for is somebody who can solve their problems."
"If I lose," he added, "it won't be because of race. It will be because, you know, I made mistakes on the campaign trail, I wasn't communicating effectively my plans in terms of helping them in their everyday lives."
Even so, the last week has offered fresh evidence that Wright will remain a potent issue for Obama's opponents.
An ad set to air Tuesday night in North Carolina, which votes May 6, contains footage of Wright on the pulpit saying "God damn America." Sponsored by the state Republican Party, the spot calls Obama "just too extreme for North Carolina" and assails two Democratic gubernatorial candidates for endorsing him.
Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, had been largely silent on Wright, saying he did not believe Obama shared his former pastor's views. Last week, he asked the North Carolina GOP, unsuccessfully, to scrap the ad.
But in an apparent shift, McCain denounced Wright at a news conference in Florida Sunday. He called "beyond belief" Wright's remarks comparing the Romans of Jesus' day to the US Marines and likening America to Al Qaeda.
McCain said that Obama had made Wright fair game by telling Fox on Sunday that Wright's remarks were a "legitimate political issue."