April 28, 2008 -- In the race to the Democratic nomination, tensions between the campaigns of rival Sens. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and Barack Obama, D-Ill., are so uncomfortable some party leaders are openly concerned Democratic voters will not unify after a nominee is chosen.
Much of the tension is based at least in part on racial divisions -- and into the dynamic walked the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama's controversial former pastor.
Speaking the National Press Club in Washington on Monday, Wright called the recent criticism surrounding his sermons "an attack on the black church" explaining his emergence before a national audience, regardless of what harm it might do to the candidacy of Obama.
Defiant Wright Plays Defense
"This is not about Obama, McCain, Hillary, Bill or Chelsea, this is about the black church," Wright said, speaking before the Washington press corps and an enthusiastic audience of black church leaders at the onset of a two-day symposium.
Obama's controversial former pastor was defiant as he spoke to a room packed with non-journalistic supporters, defending himself, dismissing Obama's criticism of him as mere political expedience, and jokingly offering himself as a vice presidential prospect. He clearly was not doing Obama any favors, not only by reappearing before a ravenous media thus distracting from Obama's attempt to relate better to white working class voters in Indiana and North Carolina, but by implying Obama's condemnation of some of his sermons was not sincere.
"Politicians say what they say and do what they do because of electability," Wright said, arguing that Obama had not seen the sermons played in the media that Obama has called "offensive." "He had to distance himself because he's a politician...Whether he gets elected or not, I'm still going to have to be answerable to God."
Wright: Media Twisted Sermons
Wright -- throughout his speech and a Q&A period -- argued that many of his critics had not heard his whole sermons and that the media had twisted his words.
But he didn't distance himself from any of the sentiments underlying the clips shown on television. Indeed, the former pastor embraced the most controversial items he has said.
Wright said he was quoting a previous U.S. Ambassador to Iraq -- in a quote that none of his supporters has been able to find -- and relaying Biblical proverbs, "whatever you sew, that is what you shall reap," and "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
"You cannot do terrorism on other people and not expect it to come back on you," Wright said. "Those are Biblical principles, not Jeremiah Wright 'bombastic' principles."
On Cheney, Iraq and Bill Clinton
Wright also took on those who characterize him as unpatriotic, taking a dig at the vice president in the process.
"I served six years in the military," Wright said. "Does that make me patriotic? How many years did Cheney serve?"
Wright pointed to congregants at his Trinity United Church of Christ who have served in the U.S. military, including Iraq and Afghanistan.
"My goddaughter's unit just arrived in Iraq this week while those who call me unpatriotic have used their positions of privilege to avoid military service while sending over 4,000 American boys and girls to die over a lie," Wright said.
Wright stopped short of weighing in on whether Bill Clinton's comparison of Obama's South Carolina win to former Democratic candidate Jesse Jackson's had racial overtones, saying of the former president, "I don't think anything about him. I'm not talking about candidates or their positions or their feelings or what they have to say to get elected."
Of Pastors and Politicians
On the Illinois' senators distancing from his pastor, Wright said "if Obama did not say what he said, he wouldn't get elected."
The distinction between religious leaders and political ones was a theme Wright returned to several times over the course of his address.
"I am a pastor, he is a member. I'm not a spiritual mentor, I'm his pastor," Wright said, sharing that he told Obama if he wins the White House "November fifth, I'm coming after you. Because you'll be representing a government whose policies grind under people."
"I do what pastors do, he does what politicians do," the reverend said before injecting humor into his remarks. "I'm not running for office. I am open to being vice president."
On the Trail...
In the last presidential debate, Clinton hammered Obama for his association with Wright.
Campaigning in Wilmington, N.C., this weekend, the New York senator called for more debates.
Clinton said she was "regretful" Obama hasn't agreed to a debate.
"How about this -- no moderators just the two of us on a stage for 90 minutes asking each other questions, talking about whatever's on our minds, just like the Lincoln-Douglas debates, and I think, you know, we could even do it on the back of a flatbed truck, doesn't even have to be in a fancy studio somewhere," Clinton said.
From Indianapolis, Obama said no.
"We are trying to campaign and meet as many voters as possible," Obama said.
Clinton says she's having "fun," but her husband, according to a senior Clinton adviser quoted in The New Yorker, is "enraged. He doesn't like Obama," the adviser said.
House Majority Whip Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., who is officially neutral, does not like the tactics of the Clinton campaign.
"A lot of Clinton surrogates have been marginalizing, demonizing and trivializing Obama," Clyburn said.
Clyburn worries that these tactics are driving white voters away from Obama and black voters away from Clinton. He says he is fearful of the directions this could lead.
"We won't be able to bring our party back together irrespective of who the nominee is," Clyburn said.
Dean: 'Cant Have a Divided Convention'
On "Good Morning America" today, Democratic Party chair Howard Dean said he's "not totally convinced" race is a "key element."
Rather than addressing the differences between the Democratic rivals, Dean focused on defeating presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain.
Dean said both Clinton and Obama "know what's right for our country" and called on one to drop out after the primary season is over so that Democrats can unify the party by convention and focus on the November general election.
"We want the voters to have their say," Dean said. "That's over on June 3."
Dean also reiterated that the unpledged Democratic superdelegates must make their decision in June.
"We really can't have a divided convention. If we do it's going to be very hard to heal the party afterwards," Dean said. "So we'll know who the nominee is and that'll give us an extra 2½ months to get our party together, heal the wounds of having a very closely divided race and take on Sen. McCain."
Of "the so-called party elders that I talked to, none thought this should go to the convention and I agree with that," Dean said.
Dean said neither candidate needed a nudge from him to exit.
"They don't need any pushing from me. You know when to get in and you know when to get out. That's just part of the deal."