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Associated Press
Washington – Democratic Sen. Barack Obama waded into America’s troubled racial history Tuesday, seeking in his most revealing campaign remarks on race to stem accumulating political damage done by the words of his former pastor.
Obama confronted what he called “incendiary language” by Rev. Jeremiah Wright that presented a “profoundly distorted view” of America. But the Democratic candidate refused to disavow the fiery preacher, who married the Obamas and baptized their children in his Chicago church.
“I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother… . These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love.”
Obama, who aspires to become the first African-American U.S. president, strode to the podium at the National Constitution Center near Philadelphia, aiming to cap a rocky period in his primary campaign.
Since earlier this month he has lost contests in the key American states of Texas and Ohio to Democratic rival Hillary Rodham Clinton and suffered a downturn in his campaign as portions of Wright’s fiery sermons surfaced on the Internet and have played endlessly on cable television.
The two most damaging video clips show Wright claiming the U.S. brought the 9/11 attacks on itself and that blacks should sing “God Damn” not “God Bless America,” a U.S. anthem, because of historic discrimination against the African American community, the descendants of slaves brought to America in its early days.
The first-term Illinois senator said Wright’s words “rightly offend white and black alike.” But, he said, race “is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now.”
And in the course of a nearly 5,000-word speech delivered near where America’s revolutionary leaders adopted the Declaration of Independence from the English crown, Obama asserted: “This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected.”
Obama bowed to passions in America’s White, Black, Asian and Hispanic communities, saying voter frustration had grown out of what he termed the “racial stalemate we’ve been stuck in for years.”
“But the anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races,” he said.
Obama voiced his own frustrations, as well, over public handling of Wright’s sermons.
“I confess that if all that I knew of Reverend Wright were the snippets of those sermons that have run in an endless loop on the television and YouTube, or if Trinity United Church of Christ conformed to the caricatures being peddled by some commentators, there is no doubt that I would react in much the same way,” he said. “But the truth is, that isn’t all that I know of the man.”
Obama argued that the anger often distracts from solving real problems and bringing change. But he said it also exists in some segments of the white community that feels blacks are often given an unfair advantage through affirmative action.
“If we walk away now, if we simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come together and solve challenges like health care, or education, or the need to find good jobs for every American,” Obama said, drawing a rare burst of applause in a somber address.
Obama said one of the tasks of his campaign to be the first black president is “to continue the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America.”
The historic battle between Clinton and Obama for the Democratic nomination has been marked by acrimony on both sides, raising concerns among party officials that such fighting would divide the party and cost them the White House as Republicans begin to coalesce around nominee-in-waiting John McCain.
Along with the tense nature of the race, Democrats have also been grappling with how to hold new nomination contests in Florida and Michigan – two states that were stripped of their delegates by the national party for holding their contests ahead of schedule.
Earlier this week, a possible solution on Florida fell apart as state Democratic officials abandoned their suggestion to hold a primary with a mail-in vote and threw a dispute over delegates into the lap of the national party. That left unresolved how to deal with the state’s 210 delegates.
Democrats in Michigan, meanwhile, moved closer to holding another contest on June 3. Legislative leaders reviewed a measure Monday that would set up a privately funded, state-administered do-over primary, The Associated Press learned.
Clinton won the popular vote in both states. But she trails Obama in the all-important delegate count, and a win in redo contests in the two states would boost her tally.
With neither candidate likely to win the nomination based on the available number of pledged delegates, they have stepped up efforts to court the nearly 800 superdelegates – Democratic party and elected officials who can support whomever they choose at the party’s national convention this summer, regardless of what happens in the primaries.
In the overall race for the nomination, Obama had 1,617 delegates Monday to Clinton’s 1,498, according to the latest AP count. To clinch the nomination, a candidate needs 2,024 delegates.
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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