Barack Obama on Sunday said that Reverend Jeremiah Wright, his former pastor, was a “legitimate [campaign] issue”, surprising those calling on the Republican party to withdraw an advertisement that shows Mr Wright’s face morphing into that of Mr Obama.
By Edward Luce in Washington
The Republican advertisement shows a clip of Mr Wright saying “God Damn America” and then switches to a clip of Mr Obama and a burning American flag. In an appearance that could prolong the controversy, Mr Wright will on Monday address the National Press Club in Washington.
Many believe that the one-minute commercial, which is being aired in North Carolina, where Mr Obama will square off next week against Hillary Clinton in a presidential primary, is a foretaste of what Mr Obama would face in a general election were he to become the Democratic nominee.
In an interview on Sunday with Fox News, the conservative television channel, Mr Obama said he accepted the right of the media and his political opposition to scrutinise his ties with the African-American pastor. John McCain, the Republican’s presidential candidate, and the Democratic National Committee have called on North Carolina’s Republican party to withdraw the advertisement.
Mr Obama said that many people had been “legitimately” offended by some of the things Mr Wright had said, which included the assertion that the US had brought the 9/11 terrorist attacks on itself through an aggressive foreign policy. “The fact that he is my former pastor . . . makes it a legitimate issue,” said Mr Obama. However, he added that Mr Wright had been “simplified and caricatured . . . in a fairly deliberate way”.
His comments come little more than a week before what has been billed as the next make-or-break phase in the Democratic party’s drawn-out primary calendar, with Mrs Clinton mounting an aggressive challenge to win critical primaries next week in Indiana and North Carolina. Mr Obama is expected to win the North Carolina primary, in part because it has a large African-American voter base.
But Indiana, which is home to many blue-collar workers who voted so decisively for Mrs Clinton in Pennsylvania last week and Ohio in early March, is considered to be too close to call. Many of the party’s undecided “super-delegates” – who are likely to settle the contest between early June, after the primaries wrap up, and late August, when the party convention is held – are watching Indiana to see if Mr Obama can stem Mrs Clinton’s self-declared “turning tide”.
Analysts believe another Clinton victory there could instil deep doubts in the minds of super-delegates about Mr Obama’s viability in a general election.
Mr Obama said on Sunday: “I have learned that I have what I believe is the right temperament for the presidency. I don’t get too high . . . and I don’t get too low.”