Barack Obama "again sought to distance himself" 4/28 from his former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, after Wright "revisited many of his most controversial comments" before the Nat'l Press Club (Murray/Slevin, Washington Post, 4/29).
"In a hastily arranged press conference" on the airport tarmac in Wilmington, NC, Obama said of Wright, "He does not speak for me. He does not speak for the campaign" (Jones, NBC/National Journal, 4/28).
Obama: "I think certainly what the last three days indicate is that we're not coordinating with him, right? He's obviously free to speak his mind, but I just want to emphasize that this is my former pastor. Many of the statements that he has made both to trigger this initial controversy and that he's made over the last several days are not statements that I've heard him make previously. They don't represent my views and they don't represent what this campaign is about" (Zeleny, "The Caucus," New York Times, 4/28).
More Obama: "I think people understand that I am not perfect and that there are going to be folks in my past like Rev. Wright that may cause them some concern but that ultimately my 20 years of service and the values that I've written about and spoken about and promoted are their values and what they're concerned about" (Dorning, "The Swamp," Chicago Tribune, 4/28).
Obama "said he would remain focused on the issues voters were asking him about, like how to deal with lost jobs and high gas prices" (NBC/National Journal, 4/28). Obama, on the Wright controversy: "None of the voters have asked about it. Now, there may be people who are troubled by it and may be polite and are not asking about it" ("The Caucus," 4/28).
Chicago Tribune's Parsons/Dorning write, Obama's response was "the verbal equivalent of a helpless shrug." The Wright story "presents potential peril for Obama, increasing the urgency for the campaign to shift the focus" (4/29).
Obama strategist David Axelrod: "It's pretty clear that Reverend Wright is not out there to help Obama -- he's out there to help himself. It's a sideshow, and the media is consumed by it." More: "I think the superdelegates still understand that Obama has a much better chance to expand this party and win this election" (Zeleny, New York Times, 4/29).
Hillary Clinton and John McCain, meanwhile, let Wright's words "do the work for them" 4/28 -- "neither had much to say" on the matter (McAuliff, New York Daily News, 4/29).
Superdelegates Aren't Easily Spooked
Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) endorsed Obama on 4/28, "citing his ability to rise above the issues that divide us, end the war in Iraq, bring universal health care, and make America energy independent." Bingaman: "We must move the country in a dramatically new direction. I strongly believe Barack Obama is best positioned to lead the nation in that new direction" (release, 4/28).
With Bingman's nod, Obama "is now a more popular choice" among his Senate colleagues than Clinton -- Obama leads among Senate endorsements 14 to 13 (Marre, The Hill, 4/28).
Meanwhile, ex-Rep. Ken Hechler (D-WV) has also endorsed Obama (AP, 4/28).
Go Toward The Light
Making several stops in NC 4/28, Obama "promised to shun negative campaigning," saying "he realized his campaign had strayed in recent weeks." Obama told a crowd of 5K in Wilmington, "I told this you my team, you know, we are starting to sound like other folks, we are starting to run the same negative stuff. It shows that none of us are immune from this kind of politics. But the problem is that it doesn't help you" (Jensen/Leigh, Bloomberg, 4/28).
Obama "spoke for more than half an hour, then took questions for an hour more, discussing foreign policy, education and tax breaks for the poor" (Barrett, Raleigh News & Observer, 4/29).
Obama criticized Clinton and McCain for proposing a gas tax holiday, saying McCain's plan would save "$25, maybe $30." Obama: "That's his big solution, and he had the gall yesterday to tell me that obviously because I didn't agree with his plan that I must not be sympathetic to poor people" (Timiraos, "Washington Wire," Wall Street Journal, 4/28).
Obama also "defended his commitment to patriotic ideals," telling the crowd, "I always have the flag in my heart and in my head." More Obama: "When I hear people questioning my patriotism, I'm not worried about people criticizing me ... But when I see that being used to distract voters from those unpatriotic acts that are making it harder for the American people to live out the American Dream, that makes me angry" (Dorning, "The Swamp," Chicago Tribune, 4/28).
Obama is in NC today, playing basketball with the UNC men's team and holding town halls in Winston-Salem and Hickory. Obama then travels to IN 4/30 and 5/1 (release, 4/29).
Meanwhile, the pro-Clinton American Leadership Project begins airing $700K worth of anti-Obama ads throughout IN today "that ridicule" Obama's econ plan. The group ran $1.1M in anti-Obama ads before TX, OH and PA (Smith, Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, 4/29).
Everyone Agrees, You're Not Helping
While Obama sought to move past Wright 4/28, the press and the pundits had plenty to say -- centering on how Wright is resurfacing just as Obama is trying to court white, working-class voters, and the difficulties this could cause.
Reports of Wright's appearance before the Press Club described him as "unrepentant" (Sabar, Christian Science Monitor, 4/29), "combative" (Berman, New York Sun, 4/28), "incendiary" (Pickler, AP, 4/29), "freewheeling" (Sammon, DC Examiner, 4/29), "cocky, defiant, declamatory, inflammatory and mischievous, but most of all, he was all over the place" on TV. Wright did "no favors" for Obama, and "revealed himself to be the compelling but slightly wacky uncle who unsettles strangers but really just craves attention." It "turns out that Mr. Wright doesn't hate America, he loves the sound of his own voice" (Stanley, New York Times, 4/29).
"From the moment he entered the room, Wright seemed to be looking to stir controversy" (Milbank, Washington Post, 4/29). "For a man who so resents being summed up in sound bites," Wright "was a veritable fountain of them" -- "by the end of Wright's performance, you had to wonder if he was trying to torpedo Obama's bid" (Chicago Tribune, 4/29).
And "these days, although Wright is operating independently and is not a campaign surrogate, the media are covering him with full force -- much to the chagrin of top Obama staffers" (Calderone, Politico, 4/29). "Reaction among Obama supporters ranged from resignation to exasperation" (Kiely, USA Today, 4/29). "But some think -- and the senator's campaign advisers are hoping -- whe Wright story will fade if Obama can sell his own message" (Parsons/Dorning, Chicago Tribune, 4/29).
Obama strategist David Axelrod, on Wright's appearances: "Well, I must say, it wouldn't be my first choice. ... I think Reverend Wright felt that he had been done a disservice in the process, and he decided to go public and he did. And, frankly, the news media was very eager to accommodate that. He had three hours on the cable stations last night, full coverage this morning and so on. So he's gotten himself quite a platform."
More Axelrod: "I can't speak to Reverend Wright's motivations or why he's out here now. Obviously, you know, it isn't helpful, and I don't think it necessarily meant to be helpful. I don't think it's about Obama. I think Reverend Wright is out there speaking for Reverend Wright. ... It's unfortunate from our prospective, because it's a needless distraction from the things I think people really do care about."
Axelrod, asked if Obama is going to speak out and separate his views: "I think where appropriate, he'll do that. I don't think we're going to spend the next week talking about Jeremiah Wright. ... We would really be doing a disservice to the people of Indiana, North Carolina and this country if we allow ourselves to get drawn into this side show for the next week. We're not going to let that happen" ("Hardball," MSNBC, 4/28).
Axelrod, on whether the Wright issue has taken Obama off message: "Well, actually, I don't think it's taking him off message. It may be taking [the media] off message. I was interested when [CNN's] Candy [Crowley] said that not one question from actual voters came up about Reverend Wright at these townhall meetings, because, all across North Carolina, all across Indiana, there are people who are struggling with real issues about their jobs, about their health care, their gas bills, how to educate their kids. Washington's let them down. They know that. They need real change. And they want it. And Senator Obama represents that. That's what he's speaking to. And, so, I think, as often happens, I think the voters are looking at something quite different than the folks who live in the little bubble you and I work in" ("Election Center," CNN, 4/28).
Fuel To The Fire?
Much of the Wright coverage highlighted new material and new problems Wright could cause for Obama:
• Politico's Allen highlights how Wright said he'd "come after" Obama if he's elected POTUS to try and change nat'l policy (4/28).
• New York Post's Earle writes, Wright "delivered his most brutal wallop to his pal's campaign as he hailed" Louis Farrakhan and "accused" the U.S. of committing terrorism (4/29).
• San Francisco Chronicle's Marinucci writes Obama's recent efforts to find "new venues," reach out to Reagan Dems and "focus on the economy" were "submerged in quicksand" with Wright's reappearance (4/29).
• Tucson Citizen's Wickham: "Obama's inability to fend off -- and disarm -- those who attack him over his relationship with Wright has created a festering wound in his campaign." NC GOPers "will take advantage of that to mount a guilt-by-association campaign" (4/28).
• Washington Post's Will writes, Wright's "paranoia tells us something -- exactly what remains to be explored" about Obama's beliefs (4/29).
• Newt Gingrich: "I thought the most devastating thing [Wright] said today at the National Press Club was that he actually prayed with the family in the basement just before the announcement. And the reason I thought it was devastating is that it's clear that Senator Obama can't decide what the relationship is. Is this somebody he's proud of and he wants next to him or is this somebody who he can cut loose from?" ("Hannity & Colmes," FNC, 4/28).
• Ex-WH Press. Sec. Ari Fleischer, on Wright: "The issue is his radicalism. The issue is that he has inspired a man who would be our president. That's what I don't understand. Anybody who says that whites are trying to kill blacks by injecting them with AIDS, who calls America the clan of KKK and who these G.D. America, you talk about a moral come pass that's way off. His is the farthest off of anybody I have heard. For Barack Obama, this is a nightmare. This is the last thing he needs before Indiana votes" ("LKL," CNN, 4/28).
• Newsweek's Miller writes, Wright "aligned himself with Obama and his commitment to diverse coalition-building -- refusing, in a sense, to keep the distance Obama has tried so hard to create." But "only twice or three times during the speech did Wright's temperature go up; even then, it was nowhere near as hot as the searing images that have been looped over and over" (4/28).
• CNBC's Harwood: "Barack Obama's got a one-week campaign to try to close out Hillary Clinton. Any distraction with Jeremiah Wright becomes a problem for his attempt to connect with those white, working-class voters. I think over the long run, it's a diminishing problem every time Jeremiah Wright opens his mouth" ("Race for the WH," MSNBC, 4/28).
• NBC's Russert: "I don't find anyone in either campaign who doesn't think that this is hurting Barack Obama. ... Senator Obama is being forced to respond to Reverend Wright. Clearly, Wright is dominating this political dialogue. The Obama campaign hopes one thing -- that he's talked himself out and the media has talked itself out so that by tomorrow, other issues will be discussed and debated" ("Today," 4/29).
• New York Observer's Kornacki, on how this will ultimately effect Obama: "The question is what people believe in the end. I don't believe they'll believe it. We'll talk about it now, but they won't vote on it in November" ("Election Center," CNN, 4/28).
• Dem strategist Joe Trippi: "It's a nightmare for the Obama campaign. ... They've got no control" ("Early Show," CBS, 4/29).
• House Maj. Whip James Clyburn (D-SC): "With an uncle like Reverend Wright, Obama's political opponents don't need any 527s" ("Morning Joe," MSNBC, 4/29).
How Do You Solve A Problem Like Jeremiah?
Other commentary focused on Obama and his campaign's response to Wright, and how or if it should change going forward:
• New York Times' Herbert writes, "the apparent helplessness of the Obama campaign in the face of the Wright onslaught contributes to the growing perception of the candidate as weak, as someone who is unwilling or unable to fight aggressively on his own behalf" (4/29).
• FNC's Barnes: "What Barack Obama has said so far is just simply not adequate. It is just what he said earlier when the whole issue of Reverend Wright came up, and that is, well, I disagree with a lot of things he said. He never said which things he disagreed with, and his story changed about his approach to Wright. ... I think that politically and morally is inadequate" ("Special Report," 4/28).
• New York Post's Lowry writes, Wright "has taken Barack Obama's critically acclaimed race speech in Philadelphia, ripped it into bits and tossed it in the air to serve as confetti for his parade through the media." The "threat to Obama" is that, "as he dodges and distances on Wright, people will come to agree" with Wright that Obama "says what he has to say as a politician" (4/29).
• The Trentonian editorializes, "Better that Obama's association with Wright derives from political calculation than ideological kinship, we say" (4/29).
• GOP strategist Ed Rollins, on whether he's surprised no one from the Obama camp has reached out to Wright: "It certainly surprises me. I mean, obviously, there has to be someone in that church who is a major supporter of both who could go to him and say, you know, you're doing great damage" ("AC 360," CNN, 4/28).
• Dick Morris: "With Obama, it depends on what we think he is. If we think he is [Rev. Wright's] comments, he'll lose 40 states. If we think he's not those comments, the underlying Democratic nature of the year will assert itself and he'll carry 40 states. ... He ought to be a whole lot more aggressive and voluble in commenting on this than 'I dissociate myself from it.'"
• More Morris: "I think that Barack Obama now has a responsibility to deal with those comments, not to explain historically where he was seven years ago when the sermon was being preached, but to deal with them because they're being said in the here and now in this new cycle, and I think his silence is eloquent" ("Hannity & Colmes," FNC, 4/28).
• Newsweek's Fineman: "You cut him off now, it looks all the more political. You stick with him, you keep confusing the identities of the two of them in a way that's not helpful. ... If this continues another couple of days, if there's more of this out there, then I think more decisive action might have been to be taken" ("Countdown," MSNBC, 4/28).
• NBC's Todd: "It's an opportunity potentially for Obama to not only distance himself once again from Reverend Wright, which he tried to do this afternoon, but potentially refrain his campaign in this last week before May 6, a date that he would like to make the last day of the campaign trail, reframe this as an argument for his candidacy again, the whole idea that he's trying to get rid of this politics of distraction, that he's trying to turn the page, that he doesn't want to be sort of killed by shiny metal objects that seem to distract the media, but rather focus on key issues, focus on change. So, he's always been better when in reactive mode, and sure enough, he's got a chance to be reactive again" ("Race for the WH," MSNBC, 4/28).
• Wall Street Journal's Noonan, on Obama: "He needs a new Act II, as far as I'm concerned. I think he ought to try to make it new, make it fresh, change his themes, get away from that guy who appears not to care about him" ("Morning Joe," MSNBC, 4/29).
• GOP strategist John Feehery: "I think that the Obama campaign should buy a very expensive first-class ticket for Reverend Wright and get him out of the country" ("Situation Room," CNN, 4/28).
• Ex-WH adviser David Gergen, on Obama: "He has got to get back into this argument" ("AC 360," CNN, 4/28).
• GOP strategist Ed Rollins, on Obama not having distanced himself more from Wright: "He has to push him away. I mean, he is fighting for his life. He's fighting for his candidacy and his presidency. And he has to push him way" ("AC 360," CNN, 4/28).
• CNN's Crowley, on how Obama is pushing back against Wright: "Well, you know, he is pushing back. And it's really interesting, because he's doing it in a kind of indirect way, but you can get the message. I mean, what he's saying here is, listen, this is not about me. This is about you all. This is about the voters. ... So, how much damage has it done? I think we will know a little bit more next Tuesday" ("Election Center," 4/28).
• Chicago Sun-Times' Sweet: "After [Obama] went to great lengths not to disown him in his big Philadelphia speech, this is the payback he gets. ... The Obama campaign could have lived with the Moyers interview. If [Wright] did that, that would have been enough, understandable. ... I don't think [Obama] really has to apologize for him anymore because it's clear that this is not a man who's under any control of anyone" ("Hardball," MSNBC, 4/28).
• Georgetown prof. Michael Eric Dyson, on the relationship between Obama and Wright: "I think Senator Obama has been very clear. He led him to Jesus, so to speak, as a pastor. His political orientation is quite different and radically dissimilar than Reverend Wright's. This is not Beavis and Butthead. These are two separate individuals who must be accounted for on their own terms" ("LKL," CNN, 4/28).
Duck And Cover
Some had critical words for the media:
• Newark Star-Ledger's Farmer writes, "Obama has lost control of it. Wright himself, and a brand of television journalism with a voracious appetite for controversy and outrageous rhetoric, are driving the issue" (4/29).
• Bill Richardson: "I think Senator Obama dealt with that issue. I don't believe that Reverend Wright deserves the coverage that he seems to be getting and the controversy that he's generating. Obama faced the problem. He said, we have a problem with race in this country. But he renounced what Reverend Wright had been saying, and rightly so. Obama is an agent of bringing people together, of unity. And I don't believe that Reverend Wright is on the ballot anywhere. So, you know, we should just push him aside and focus on the differences between the two candidates" ("Situation Room," CNN, 4/28).
• New Yorker's Lizza: "There's no guilt by association. This guy has one set of views. Obama has another set of views. If the views match up, then it's fair game. ... Where do his views match up with Jeremiah Wright's? ... And why, as journalists, are we confusing the two? It seems to me totally unfair that this guy's getting smeared with the views of someone just because he's his former pastor" ("Hardball," MSNBC, 4/28).
• GOP strategist Amy Holmes: "Here's the problem: who are we talking about? We're talking about Jeremiah Wright instead of Barack Obama. In these precious days leading up to Indiana, we're not talking about Barack Obama's plans for jobs, ways to revive the economy. And Reverend Wright, I have to ask him; why are you doing this? Do you love attention more than you love Barack Obama? Because the whole day today has been about him and not about his parishioner, who's a Democratic front-runner and possible nominee of the Democratic party" ("LKL," CNN, 4/28).
Just. Stop. Talking.
And others had lots to say about Wright:
• FNC's O'Reilly: "I don't think it's an Obama story anymore. I think that story is over. You either believe Obama, what he said about Wright or not. Right now, pardon the pun, it's a story about a kook, and I do believe is he a loon, commanding unbelievable amount of attention" ("O'Reilly Factor," 4/28).
• Wall Street Journal editorializes, "This won't wash. The one fact that Seantor Obama can't undo is the fact that he was a member of Rev. Wright's church for 20 years." And Wright "is insisting on making this long relationship an issue" in the WH race (4/29).
• Gingrich, on Wright: "I think he's actually more reflective, as is William Ayers, of the hard left than he is of African-Americans. ... He's angry at everybody. ... He's angry at Senator Obama for trying to be disingenuous" ("GMA," ABC, 4/29).
• Washington Times ed. emeritus Wesley Pruden: "Obama's unusual friends, associates and mentors in Chicago show him to be a child of the '60s, that trashy decade we thought we'd put behind us" (4/29).
• Dem strategist Donna Brazile: "What I heard today, Reverend Wright sounded like a politician, like he wanted to inject himself into this political fray. He should not. He should allow Barack Obama to get his message out every day" ("Situation Room," CNN, 4/28).
• Mike Huckabee: "What he's doing is making it awfully difficult for Barack Obama to convince people that sitting in that pew for 20 years, hearing stuff like that, didn't have some impact on him. He's taking ... an election that was rising above race and has turned into an election that's nothing but race. And it's really unfortunate. I think Reverend Wright has gotten a taste of the limelight, he's enjoying it, he refuses to leave the stage, someone needs to turn off the lights, grab the hook and tell him it's time to go back to Chicago and pass out food to people" ("Verdict," MSNBC, 4/28).
• Washington Post's Robinson disagrees that Wright is speaking for the entire African American church, and writes, "Politically, by surfacing now, he was throwing Barack Obama under the bus. Sadly, it's time for Obama to return the favor" (4/29).
• Jonah Goldberg writes, Wright "not only threw Obama under the bus, he chucked much of hte liberal and mainstream media under there with him." Wright "is every bit as radical as his detractors claimed and explodes Obama's "messianic rhetoric" (Los Angeles Times, 4/29).
• NPR's Williams: "He starts to attack Barack Obama. ... I don't think he's acting as Barack Obama's advocate ... for the presidency. It's almost as like he wants him to lose so he can say hey, the white people wouldn't vote for a black man for president" ("O'Reilly Factor," FNC, 4/28).
• Washington Post's Capehart: "It was painful to watch because you could see with every answer he gave, he was just sticking a knife into the Obama campaign" ("Morning Joe," MSNBC, 4/29).
• FNC's Angle: "Wright defended Farrakhan in the way he might have wished Obama have defended him. But Obama might have wished that Wright had doused some of the controversy instead of stoking it" ("Special Report," 4/28).
• San Diego Union Tribune editorializes, "What a depressing spectacle: At a promising, hopeful moment in our history, when Obama's message of racial reconciliation has struck a chord with so many, another new black voice emerges to fan African-American paranoia about devious anti-black conspiracies -- and it's Obama's ex-pastor" (4/29).
• MSNBC's Matthews: "Democrats, for years, have associated Republican presidents with the late Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson with impunity. ... So, don't say this is the first time this has happened" ("Hardball," 4/28).
• Ex-WH adviser David Gergen, on how much damage Wright can do to Obama's camp: "It's hard to imagine he can do much more. His publicity blitz has been the dumbest, most selfish, most narcissistic act I have seen in politics in some 40 years. ... Barack Obama had the real possibility of winning Indiana Tuesday of next week, winning North Carolina, and possibly bringing this to an end. It's clear tonight that Indiana is now in jeopardy, and perhaps North Carolina. I'm hearing North Carolina. Don't think so, but it could bring down that" ("AC 360," 4/28).
I Never Get Carded
Asked 4/28 about the SCOTUS ruling "that would allow states to require" voters show photo ID at the polls, Obama said, "I disagree with the decision," arguing "that it discourages turnout and that there was no evidence of voter fraud to justify requiring such measures" (NBC/National Journal, 4/28).
Ex-NSA Brent Snowcroft "suggested" in an interview with the "Huffington Post" 4/28 "that the U.S. could use some Obama-style diplomacy." Snowcroft said, "the U.S. would benefit from having direct talks with the leaders of its most distrusted adversaries." Asked if the next POTUS should meet with Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinehjad, Snowcroft said, "Absolutely ... It's hard to make things better if you don't talk" (Silva, "The Swamp," Chicago Tribune, 4/28).
Obama is giving $2.3K in WH campaign contributions to charity, money he got from ex-Iraqi electricity minister Aiham Alsammarae, "a dual U.S.-Iraqi citizen who posted more than $2.7 million in property to help spring Tony Rezko from jail." Obama spokesperson Ben LaBolt said Obama is giving the money to charity "given the circumstances brought to light be recent news reports" (Fusco, Chicago Sun-Times, 4/29).
Don't Get Smart With Me
Boston Globe's Canellos writes, Obama's answer to the affirmative action question during the PA debate "was a microcosm" of the his strengths and weaknesses, "intriguing but fuzzy, responsive to voters' underlying concerns but not really specific in policy terms." These "kinds of answers have worked for Obama in the past," but as Clinton "seems to have discovered, Obama's references to values and principles" can also be "distancing" to some voters, "particularly skeptical blue-collar types" (4/29).
Politico's Simon writes, "Americans don't want presidents who are too brainy," because "braininess is elitist, and being an elitist is the worst thing you can be if you want to be president" (4/28).
The Enigmatic Mr. Rove
Air America's Maddow, on Karl Rove's memo to Obama in Newsweek: "I think it's actually kind of a great mix of patently ridiculous and totally smart. The idea that he should give simpler responses to the known controversies in this campaign, absolutely. ... The idea that he ought to go back to the Senate and start working on a big complex issue, on the other hand, I'm sure Republicans would love to see that, and maybe they would like to send Hillary Clinton back to do the same" ("Race for the WH," MSNBC, 4/28).
This article appears in the April 29, 2008 edition of Latest Edition.
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