Democratic party superdelegates were today deciding the extent of the damage Barack Obama’s controversial former pastor has had on the Senator’s ability to win the White House later this year.
Around 800 so-called superdelegates, the elected officials and party leaders whose votes are not tied to the primary season results, hold the key as to whether this year’s Democratic nominee will be frontrunner Mr Obama or his rival Hillary Clinton.
But the ongoing row over the Rev Jeremiah Wright, who Mr Obama angrily distanced himself from yesterday, raises serious questions over his political judgment and whether he waited too long to take decisive action to address the issue.
Mr Wright 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 said yesterday that Mr Wright “was not the person that I met 20 years ago” and added he was “outraged and saddened” by the latest “divisive and destructive” remarks on race.
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.
Today, the Obama campaign announced two congressmen, Bruce Braley and Baron Hill, planned to endorse the 46-year-old Illinois Senator later today at a rally in Bloomington, Indiana.
Meanwhile, Mrs Clinton added the backing of Bill George, a superdelegate and president of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, and Luisette Cabanas, a superdelegate from Puerto Rico.
The endorsements come ahead of primary election contests in Indiana and North Carolina on Tuesday.
Mr Obama, who would be America’s first black president, is expected to do well among the large African American electorate in North Carolina, but polls in Indiana are split.
Yesterday, Mr Obama tried to convince other superdelegates, and American voters, that he had dealt with Mr Wright’s comments and the issue was over.
“I have been a member of Trinity United Church of Christ since 1992, and have known Rev Wright for 20 years,” Mr Obama said. “The person I saw (on Monday) was not the person that I met 20 years ago.”
Mr Obama added: “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 Tuesday’s contests, went on: “Obviously, whatever relationship I had with Rev 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 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 Senator 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.”