Sen. Barack Obama on Tuesday seeks to frame the presidential campaign on uneasy terrain that both is and isn't his.
That's because his subject -- race in America -- both is and isn't central to his campaign. That is to say, his candidacy has been about moving beyond racial divisions -- and now those schisms have crashed their way back into the campaign in a way that raises central questions about his background and his candidacy.
It's with the words of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright having spread across the campaign -- and with him winning states with 90 percent of the black vote and 30 percent of the white vote -- that Obama takes the stage at 10:15 am ET at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.
Obama, D-Ill., knows how to give a speech (and Michelle Obama rearranged her travel schedule to be there with him, for underlined, boldfaced emphasis). But the Obama brand has never been in as much danger as it is with the Wright controversy, and the Clinton campaign could be getting its wish: The candidate who is black is becoming the black candidate.
Obama "will repeat his earlier denunciations of the minister's words, aides said," Jodi Kantor and Jeff Zeleny report in The New York Times. "But they said he would also use the opportunity to open a broader discussion of race, which his campaign has said throughout the contest that it wants to transcend."
Kantor and Zeleny report some advisers having told him not to deliver such a speech. "Five weeks before the Pennsylvania primary, Mr. Obama had hoped to be refining his strategy to win over the support of white male voters -- a demographic that began to slip away in his Ohio defeat."
Obama's larger problem: Just as he's trying to quell doubts among Democrats about his candidacy -- and as he argues that words matter -- here come words from his spiritual mentor are pretty close to impossible to explain away.
"I would say that it has been a distraction from the core message of our campaign," Obama told PBS' Gwen Ifill Monday night. "I think part of what has always been the essence of my politics, not just this campaign, but my life, is the idea that we've got to bring people together."
(If he can draw a straight line from Wright's words to that place, he's better than all of us thought.)
Guidance from the Obama campaign: "He'll discuss the controversy surrounding the offensive remarks made by Reverend Wright, but also why they were so contrary to the purpose of his candidacy, which is based on the recognition that there is far more that unites us than divides us."
Per ABC's Jake Tapper: "The speech will address not just Wright's comments, but the context of that kind of fiery rhetoric in black churches, and the importance of moving beyond the battles of the past."
Tapper reports: "More pressing questions for Obama, of course, may be the political ones. Why wasn't this issue dealt with until now? What else do voters not know about Obama? And how does his pledge to unite the country square with his attendance at a church where those of his mother's hue might not feel comfortable?"