Obama answers questions

Excerpts from a USA TODAY interview with Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama:

Q: What issue resonates most?

A: There's no doubt that health care has been the single most frequently talked-about issue in all my town meetings. … That along with the war in Iraq have been the two dominant issues over the course of the year. An issue I didn't expect to get as much traction as it has, but (one) people really care about, is our Constitution and protecting our civil liberties.

Q: Has Benazir Bhutto's assassination become an issue?

A: It's part and parcel about a broader concern of our standing in the world and our approach to diplomacy and what we stand for.

Q: Comments by (Obama's chief strategist) David Axelrod linking Sen. (Hillary Rodham) Clinton's vote for the war in Iraq with the turmoil in Pakistan have been controversial. Are you comfortable with your adviser's remarks?

A: He was asked what the impact of it might be on the campaign. I think the Clinton camp was pushing this notion that this will help her argument about experience. And he made the simple point that, in fact, the question in terms of dealing with Pakistan or anything else has to do with judgment. … The war in Iraq took our eye off the ball in Pakistan and Afghanistan and has increased the potency of extremist forces around the world. I don't think any serious foreign-policy expert will dispute that argument.

Q: Are voters' concerns about your level of experience your greatest challenge?

A: Our toughest challenge, I think, is convincing people that change is possible, overcoming their cynicism or skepticism that anybody can bring about a real difference in Washington. And if people don't think that change can happen, then they just might opt for the tried-and-true, as opposed to trying for something different and that promises better outcomes.

Q: Is it a challenge to convince voters that America will elect a black president?

A: I think that's an argument that's been pushed, in some cases, in other quarters, and I think that it's important for us to remind voters that the most recent Zogby poll, for example, showed that I'm the only Democrat in the race who beats every Republican candidate.

Q: Is the Clinton campaign pushing that argument?

A: I'm not going to — what I know is that we've heard from voters and from staff people that that's a message that is filtering out through e-mails, etc. But as I said before, I don't think that's where the American people are.

Q: You quoted your wife as saying it's "now or never." Were you ruling out another presidential campaign down the road?

A: No, no, no. That's not what she said. I said, "We're not doing this again," in the context of, you know, a broader point I was making. We think now's the time when the country is open to a message of change, and I believe I'm the right person to deliver that message and actually deliver on the change. … It was a point about the importance of now.

Q: Not ruling out another run?

A: I am not even thinking about anything beyond five days from now.

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