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Blacks wrestle with Obama-Wright rift

Many understand, but some may doubt Obama's 'blackness.'

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Some see the renunciation as helping Obama with the working-class white voters he has struggled to attract. But it could soften support among African-Americans, prompting some to stay home in the general election if it helps crystallize a picture of him as out of touch, analysts say.

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Blacks have been Obama's staunchest supporters, voting for him in some states by margins as high as 9 to 1. The North Carolina primary Tuesday is the last contest where a large percentage of Democratic voters – some 38 percent – are black. But analysts say any political fallout among African-Americans is more likely to be seen in November.

"This split is basically going to be by class," says Christopher Parker, a University of Washington professor who studies African-American politics. "The more-educated and higher-income African-Americans will see Wright for what he is – he's angry and he wants his 15 minutes of fame extended into a half hour. For the black folks who are working-class or below, they might be a little angry with Barack because they feel that within the black church, Wright is speaking the truth."

Says Eric McDaniel, an expert on black politics and religion at the University of Texas at Austin: "It gets back to the 'is he black enough?' question."

Obama was a young community organizer in Chicago in the 1980s when he met Wright. The Illinois senator has credited the pastor with inspiring his Christian faith and the title of Obama's book, "The Audacity of Hope."

Obama's remarks Tuesday were a marked shift from his wide-ranging speech on race in Philadelphia on March 18. He distanced himself then from some of Wright's more inflammatory remarks but asked Americans to see the pastor as a member of an older generation of blacks stung by firsthand experiences of hate and segregation. "I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community," Obama had said.

Many African-Americans will understand Obama's breach with Wright as a political inevitability, says Kenneth Edmonds, publisher of The Carolina Times, an African-American newspaper in Durham, N.C. "They will look and say, 'This is what he has to do,' " Mr. Edmonds says. "African-Americans understand that when you go out and deal with white America, you have to be prepared to treat them in a certain way to make sure they are comfortable.... This is a part of life being an African-American."

Several black preachers were reluctant to talk about the impact of the break between Obama and Wright. For many, the controversy had at least offered the opportunity to raise awareness among Americans of the black church. Some hoped it might stimulate difficult if unsettling conversations about race. But Wright's appearance at the National Press Club and Obama's disavowal of him may set back such hopes.

Jane Lampman in Boston and Alexandra Marks in Hickory, N.C., contributed reporting.