A visibly angry Barack Obama on Tuesday all but disowned Jeremiah Wright, his former pastor, whose increasingly provocative comments are widely believed to have dented Mr Obama’s hopes of securing the Democratic nomination.
By Edward Luce in Washington DC
Mr Obama, whom opinion polls show dead even with Hillary Clinton in Indiana, which holds what some have billed a “tiebreaker” primary vote next Tuesday, said he was “outraged and saddened” by the Rev Wright’s most recent comments on Monday.
“Reverend Wright does not speak for me – he does not speak for our campaign,” said Mr Obama. “I cannot prevent him from continuing to make these outrageous remarks. But I do want him to be clear that [his remarks] contradict…who I am and everything that I am about.”
The Rev Wright, who reportedly ignored the pleading of senior Obama supporters to cancel his appearance on Monday in front of the national media in Washington DC, reiterated his most incendiary comments including the charge that the US government had created HIV Aids to kill off African-Americans.
He also repeated the assertion that the US brought the 11 September attacks upon itself and claimed that Mr Obama had only “distanced himself” from such comments out of shallow political motivations. Mr Obama on Tuesday said he was particularly offended by the Rev Wright’s claim that he had been “politically posturing” when he denounced such comments.
“When he [the Rev Wright] states and then amplifies such ridiculous propositions…they offend me. They rightly offend all Americans. And they should be denounced. And that’s what I’m doing very clearly and unequivocally here today,” said Mr Obama. Having earlier defended the Rev Wright from what he said was a media-inspired caricature, Mr Obama added that the Rev Wright had now “caricatured himself”.
Mr Obama’s intervention came at a particularly sensitive stage of the campaign with Mrs Clinton claiming that “victory is in sight” just a week before the important primary votes in Indiana and North Carolina. “It is starting to look like Mrs Clinton could win Indiana,” said Tom Schaller, a political scientist at the University of Maryland. “If she also restricts his margin of victory in North Carolina to a few points she could really upset his path to the nomination.”
Mrs Clinton’s prospects of narrowing Mr Obama’s clear lead in North Carolina were boosted on Tuesday by the endorsement of Mike Easley, governor of the state, who is popular among its blue collar workers. Mrs Clinton, who needs to win Indiana to keep her nomination prospects alive, also on Tuesday clinched the endorsement of Ike Skelton, the influential chairman of the House of Representatives’ armed services committee.
However, Mr Obama continues to secure more fresh endorsements than Mrs Clinton among the “superdelegates” – Democratic officials who will ultimately choose the winner. On Monday Jeff Bingaman, the senator for New Mexico, endorsed Mr Obama and on Tuesday Ben Chandler, a congressman from Kentucky, also added his name.
Although Mrs Clinton has the support of 261 superdelegates compared with Mr Obama’s 240, her lead has been reduced from more than 100 in February. Many of the remaining 300 or so undecided superdelegates are waiting to see how the remaining nine Democratic contests play out before declaring their affiliations in early June.
Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, told the Financial Times last week that he would push hard to get the nomination settled long before the presidential convention in Denver in late August. “If we go into the convention divided, we will come out of it divided,” he said.