Local Politics

Obama decries 'distractions' before primary

Posted May 1, 2008 1:35 p.m. EDT
Updated May 1, 2008 2:15 p.m. EDT

— Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama told WRAL News that he will focus on issues such as gas prices and health-care costs – and not "incendiary comments" made by his pastor – in the final five days before North Carolina's primary.

Sermons by his former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, created a "distraction" for his campaign in the past week, Obama said. The Illinois senator said he "was very angry and had to denounce" those comments, which included suggesting that the AIDS virus was invented by the government to destroy "people of color."

"That's been the reporting, and we weren't talking about gas prices; we weren't talking about bringing jobs back to North Carolina," Obama said. "We're looking forward, the next five days, to focusing on the things that really matter to your viewers."

A poll released Thursday showed Obama's once double-digit lead over rival Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has shrunk to 7 points, with 9 percent of voters undecided.

Obama said he was not surprised by Gov. Mike Easley's endorsement of Clinton and emphasized his endorsements by U.S. Reps. David Price and Mel Watts, state Rep. G.K. Butterfield and "major mayors," including those of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill.

Obama's wife, Michelle, will speak on Friday at The Durham Armory, 220 Foster St., at 11:30 a.m., and at Quad University of North Carolina at Asheville's Quad at 4:30 p.m.

The Durham event is free, but tickets are required. They can be picked up at a table outside the Old Durham Ballpark, Corporation and Morris Streets, until 7 p.m. Thursday.

Obama contrasted himself with Clinton and the GOP's presumptive nominee, Sen. John McCain, claiming that he has a history of "truth-telling" and bringing people together.

Obama criticized his rivals' plan – first proposed by McCain – to suspend the 18.4 cent gas tax and 24.4 cent diesel tax from Memorial Day to Labor Day. His plan of "a middle-class tax cut, $1,000 for working families," though, would give "real relief," Obama said.

"That's the real choice, I think, that North Carolina voters are going to be facing," Obama said. "Do they want policies that are simply designed to get through the next election, or do they want someone who's going to be talking to them honestly about how we're going to solve problems?

"I think they recognize that the problems we face now require that kind of change," he added.

Obama recalled scrimmaging with University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill basketball team on Tuesday – and his near-score against Tyler Hansbrough.

"I had to take myself out after about five minutes, because at 46, trying to keep pace with the national player of the year and his teammates was a little bit much," Obama said. "When that lay-up dribbled out, I was heartbroken.

"But they couldn't have been more gracious, and Coach (Roy) Williams is a class act."

North Carolina has 115 pledged delegates up for stake in its May 6 primary.