WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrat Barack Obama and his wife said Thursday the public is tired of hearing about incendiary remarks by their former pastor, as they sought to put the controversy that has rocked his presidential campaign to rest.
“We hear time and time again voters are tired of this,” Michelle Obama said in an interview the couple gave to NBC's “Today” show.
“They don't want to hear about this division, they want to know what are we going to do to move beyond these issues,” she said.
“And what made me feel proud of Barack in this situation is that he is trying to move us as a nation beyond these conversations that divide.”
Barack Obama said he initially tried to give the Rev. Jeremiah Wright the benefit of the doubt when films clips first surfaced on the Internet of fiery sermons the pastor gave at their Chicago church – a series of haranguing declarations from the pulpit in which he damned the United States for racial oppression and accusing the government of deliberately spreading the HIV virus to harm black people.
“When the first snippets came out, I thought it was important to give him the benefit of the doubt because if I had wanted to be
politically expedient I would have distanced myself and denounced him right away, right? That would have been the easy thing to do,” said Obama.
This week he denounced Wright's comments as “giving comfort to those who prey on hate.”
In speeches and interviews over the past week, Wright has said that criticism surrounding his sermons is an attack on the black church. He dismissed Obama’s widely-praised speech last month in Philadelphia – which sought to put Wright’s sermons in the context of the black experience in the United States – as political posturing.
Wright had been Obama’s pastor for more than 20 years. Wright brought Obama to Christianity, inspired the title of his book The Audacity of Hope, officiated at his wedding and baptized his daughters.
Barack Obama acknowledged the Wright controversy, as well as his own remarks about voters clinging to guns and religion in economically depressed Pennsylvania towns, have hurt his campaign and the damage is beginning to show in polls.
“I think it’s pretty clear what has happened,” he said. “We’ve had – what – two months now, or a month and a half, in which you've had the Reverend Wright controversy, you've had the issue of my comments in San Francisco that have been magnified pretty heavily – that's been a pretty full dose.”
In a separate interview with CNN taped Wednesday, Michelle Obama said her husband’s denunciation of Wright's comments was “a tough thing for him to do.”
“Yes, it was painful. Yes, it's been difficult, but I think that the more difficult thing that this country is facing is trying to move politics into conversations around problems and problem-solving, and that’s what we’re going to be pretty determined to do,” she said. “I think that this is about all I’m going to say on this issue, and I think we're going to close this chapter and move into the next phase of this election. With that, I'm hoping that we'll talk about something else.”
Photo by Rick Bowmer/AP Photo. Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and his wife, Michelle.
THE MORE YOU KNOW
Clinton closes in on Obama in North Carolina
The presidential race for Democrats in North Carolina
Barack Obama, 49 percent
Hillary Rodham Clinton, 42 percent
Obama maintains his edge over Clinton in North Carolina, a state he is expected to win on Tuesday. Obama leads Clinton 63-26 among voters under age 35, while Clinton has a 47-45 edge among voters over 50. He has the support of 87 percent of black voters, while Clinton leads among whites with 62 percent. By party registration, Obama led 48 percent to 43 percent among Democrats and 55-38 among independent or unaffiliated voters. Fifty-five percent said they were looking most for a candidate who "represents change and a new approach," while 36 percent said they wanted someone who "has the right experience." The poll was conducted as news broke that Gov. Mike Easley would endorse Clinton.
The Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc. poll was conducted April 28-29 for WRAL-TV in Raleigh and WBTV in Charlotte. It included interviews with 400 likely Democratic primary voters, for whom the margin of sampling error was plus or minus 5 percentage points.