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Associated Press – April 28, 2008
WASHINGTON – As Democratic front-runner Barack Obama sought to diminish race as a “determining factor” in the 2008 presidential contest, his former pastor said on Monday that the heated controversy over some of his remarks from pulpit were an attack on the black church in America.
Obama was heading into primaries in Indiana and North Carolina next week badly needing to rebound after a substantial defeat by rival Hillary Rodham Clinton in Pennsylvania.
But Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s repeated and high-profile appearances in recent days were keeping alive the candidate’s relationship with the outspoken black religious scholar who was the Illinois senator’s spiritual adviser for 20 years.
“It is an attack on the black church, not an attack on Jeremiah Wright,” the pastor said in a fiery speech Monday morning at the National Press Club in Washington.
He denounced U.S. intervention in Latin America and Iraq in an unrelenting attack on American foreign policy, in what was sure to fuel heavy criticism of Obama, who has denounced Wright’s incendiary remarks in the past but refused to separate himself from Wright.
The religious leader has said the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States were “chickens coming home to roost” because of the country’s actions in the world.
Wright rejected those who have labeled him unpatriotic.
“I served six years in the military,” he said. “Does that make me patriotic? How many years did (Vice President Dick) Cheney serve?”
He said his Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago has a long history of liberating the oppressed by feeding the hungry, supporting recovery for the addicted and helping senior citizens in need. He said congregants have fought in the military, including in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“My goddaughter’s unit just arrived in Iraq this week while those who call me unpatriotic have used their positions of privilege to avoid military service while sending over 4,000 American boys and girls to die over a lie,” he said.
In other snippets of past sermons from the pulpit in Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ, Wright also said God should “damn” America for its oppression of blacks and accused the government of flooding the streets of black communities with illegal drugs.
Distribution of isolated portions of those remarks on the Internet and television were believed to have played a roll in Obama’s loss last week in Pennsylvania, which showed the issues of race, gender and economic difficulties facing working-class voters were playing an important role in the Democratic nominating campaign now in it’s 17th contentious week.
Wright also said he had warned Obama, if he were elected president, “I’m coming after you too because you represent a country that grinds people under.”
Wright was making his third appearance since last Thursday.
“I am not one of the most divisive” black spiritual leaders, Wright told a 10,000-strong audience Sunday night at a meeting of Detroit, Michigan, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. “I’m one of the most descriptive.”
In a rollicking, often humorous and highly intellectual defense of black culture, Wright insisted he did not speak for Obama.
“I’m not a politician,” he said. “I know that fact will surprise many of you because many in the corporate-owned media made it seem like I am running for the Oval Office.”
The videos of Wright’s remarks have knocked Obama’s presidential campaign off stride and he acknowledged on “Fox News Sunday” that race was “still a factor in our society.”
Yet, he asked rhetorically, “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.”
A Democratic victory in the November general election against presumptive Republican nominee John McCain would mean a first regardless of who wins – Obama, the first black president, or Clinton, the first woman to hold the office.
As the Democrats looked toward North Carolina and Indiana, those issues stood in stark relief. Obama had a sizable lead in pre-balloting polls in North Carolina, where there is a large African-American population, but he was running about even in with Clinton in Indiana.
His support there depended heavily on urban areas with larger black populations in contrast with Clinton’s deeper backing in rural- and small-town Indiana and among hard-pressed working class whites – especially women – in rust-belt cities.
Those same divisions gave Clinton a nearly 10-percentage point victory last week in Pennsylvania, a vote that buried speculation she would exit the race, in which Obama holds an unassailable lead in elected delegates to the party’s August national convention in Denver.
Clinton, meanwhile, campaigned in North Carolina, saying the U.S. has failed to give proper attention to Afghanistan, noting an assassination attempt on the country’s president on Sunday as proof.
Speaking at a rally along Cape Fear in North Carolina, the former first lady said Afghanistan needs “as much, if not more attention” than Iraq.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the Sunday gunfire assault that missed President Hamid Karzai but killed three and wounded eight others at a ceremony in Kabul.
Clinton noted she had met Karzai, and said, “He is a brave man trying under very difficult circumstances to hold that country together, and we have not given him the resources he needs.”
Clinton was in the state after spending two days campaigning in Indiana and appealing to working-class voters.
On the Republican side, nominee-in-waiting McCain criticized Obama as insensitive to the poor and out of touch with America’s economic needs.
McCain’s remarks in Coral Gables, Florida, arose from Obama’s opposition to the Arizona senator’s proposal to suspend the federal fuel tax this summer. Clinton has endorsed a similar proposal.
“I noticed again today that Senator Obama repeated his opposition to giving low-income Americans a tax break, a little bit of relief so they can travel a little further and a little longer, and maybe have a little bit of money left over to enjoy some other things in their lives,” McCain said.
It was notable that McCain criticized Obama but did not strike out at Clinton, who trails her Democratic rival Obama in elected delegates and popular votes with seven U.S. states, and the territories of Puerto Rico and Guam still to vote.
An Associated Press tally of the delegate race has Obama leading Clinton 1,724.5 to 1,593.5.
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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