Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama will try to get his campaign for the party’s nomination back on track today after declaring his controversial former pastor “was not the person that I met 20 years ago”.
The young Illinois senator said he was “outraged and saddened” by the Rev Jeremiah White’s latest “divisive and destructive” remarks on race.
Mr White made a series of speeches earlier this week in which he said the US government was responsible for terrorist attacks on America, that it invented Aids to kill black people, and also described criticism of his controversial sermons as attacks on the black church.
Mr Obama confronted the issue head-on with reporters in Winston-Salem, North Carolina yesterday, ahead of the state’s primary election next Tuesday.
“I have been a member of Trinity United Church of Christ since 1992, and have known Reverend Wright for 20 years,” Mr Obama said. “The person I saw (on Monday) was not the person that I met 20 years ago.”
Mr White reignited the controversy surrounding the issue of Mr Obama’s judgment at a critical point in the Democratic presidential race, less than a week after the senator lost to his rival Hillary Clinton in Pennsylvania last Tuesday.
Mr Obama, 46, went on: “I am outraged by the comments that were made and saddened over the spectacle that we saw.
“What became clear to me is that he was presenting a world view that contradicts who I am and what I stand for.
“And what I think particularly angered me was his suggestion somehow that my previous denunciation of his remarks were somehow political posturing.
“Anybody who knows me and anybody who knows what I’m about knows that I am about trying to bridge gaps and I see the commonality in all people.”
Mr Obama, who is fighting for working class votes in both North Carolina and Indiana ahead of next Tuesday’s contests, went on: “Obviously, whatever relationship I had with Reverend Wright has changed.
“I don’t think he showed much concern for me, more importantly I don’t think he showed much concern for what we’re trying to do in this campaign.”
Mr Obama said he heard that Mr Wright had given “a performance” and that it was more than just a case of the former pastor defending himself.
“His comments were not only divisive and destructive, I believe they end up giving comfort to those who prey on hate,” Mr Obama said.
The young senator, who would be America’s first black president if elected in November, said he understood the pressures Mr Wright faced but would not excuse his comments.
“I think he felt vilified and attacked and I understand him wanting to defend himself,” Mr Obama said.
“That may account for the change but the insensitivity and the outrageousness of the statements shocked me and surprised me.”
The Democratic frontrunner’s strong words came six weeks after Mr Obama delivered a high-profile speech on the issue of race in American society, in which he condemned Mr Wright’s remarks but did not leave the church or repudiate the minister himself, who he said was like a family member.
But Mr Obama made it clear he did not agree with Mr Wright’s views after the pastor suggested the senator was simply saying what he had to say to get elected.
“If Senator Obama did not say what he said, he would never get elected,” Mr Wright said.
“Politicians say what they say and do what they do based on electability, based on sound bites, based on polls.”
Mr Obama leads New York senator Mrs Clinton, 60, in pledged delegates but both candidates would need the support of the party’s so-called super-delegates – the elected officials and party leaders whose votes are not tied to the primary season results – to clinch their party’s nomination.