May 5, 2008 -- On the eve of two crucial primaries in Indiana and North Carolina, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., campaigned across both states in a last-ditch effort to woo undecided voters and quell any doubts that have arisen about him over the last two weeks.
Stumping for Every Vote
Obama wasted no time today, starting this last full day of campaigning before the two primaries at 4:45 in the morning. He left his hotel in Evansville, Ind., while it was still dark, to do a round of morning show interviews, and by 8:30 a.m. he had already stopped by a construction site to greet workers and spoke at a breakfast for local labor leaders.
Obama needs to forage for every last vote in Indiana, where polls show him trailing Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and his efforts haven't been helped by the controversy surrounding his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
Wright, who re-emerged as a factor in the campaign a week ago with two inflamatory speeches, seems to have had an effect on voters' feelings about the presidential hopeful.
According to a New York Times/CBS News poll out today, 57 percent of voters said the Wright issue will not matter to them at all when they decide who to vote for in November, but 44 percent of those polled said they thought the issue would matter to people they know. Nearly half of those polled said Obama renounced his ties to Wright because it would help him politically.
Wright made headlines weeks ago for his controversial comments, and Obama denounced Wright after he suggested that Obama secretly agreed with him.
"I don't think people believe that somehow I subscribe to some of the views that Rev. Wright expressed," Obama said. "There are probably some Democrats that are worried about what Republicans might do, and so, they are thinking more strategically what this means for a general election campaign."
Obama says he chose to attend Trinity United Church of Christ where Wright preaches because it's a "wonderful church community that lives out the social gospel."
"The caricature of what people have seen out of Wright suggests that somehow that was what people were hearing or seeing every day, and that just wasn't. It's a church that was talking about Jesus, and talking about faith, and talking about redemption," Obama said.
Obama doesn't believe, however, that the Wright controversy has changed voters' perceptions of him from a candidate who transcended race to a candidate defined by it.
"As somebody who's worked all my life and written about it and spoken about the need to unify the country, I think people understand that's who I am," he said.
The shots in the Democratic primary campaign are getting nasty, and this weekend it got downright crude as Clinton confidante James Carville told Newsweek, "If she gave him one of her cojones, they'd both have two."
Obama responded to Carville's comments for the first time today.
"Well, you know, James Carville is well-known for spouting off his mouth without always knowing what he's talking about," Obama told "Nightline." "And I intend to stay focused on fighting for the American people because what they don't need is 20 more years of performance art on television. And that's what James Carville and a lot of those folks are expert at ... a lot of talk and not getting things done for the American people."
Obama scoffed at the idea that he is not as tough as Clinton, or as ready for the rigors of a general election.
"Since I've won twice as many states and we've probably gone through a tougher time than, certainly, Sen. Clinton or John McCain have over the last two months, and we're standing here campaigning actively to win in Indiana and North Carolina," he said. "So, obviously, I've been able to take my shots and keep on ticking."
'I've Got to Work Harder for Those Votes'
Obama is favored to win North Carolina, a state with a large number of black voters. In Indiana, it's a tighter race, and polling shows Obama still struggling with blue collar white voters.
Even so, Obama dismisses the idea that this primary election is polarized by race.
"I think that there's a lot of speculation around demographics in this race, people studying polls, and I just think that each state is different," Obama told "Nightline." "We're running against a strong candidate who has her own base, and we won a lot of white voters in Virginia, in Wisconsin, obviously places like Idaho and North Dakota. ... What I know is when I talk to white voters, their concerns are the same as when I talk to black voters."
Obama also believes the media has been inconsistent in portraying his candidacy along racial lines.
"This is something that the media, I'm sorry to say, has been promoting for a long time," he said. "I don't know if anyone can remember this, but about this time last year, when every story was, 'Is he black enough, he's not getting black votes,' I kept saying at the time, 'Listen, relax. People are getting to know me, and when they have a sense to see me, and hear my life story, then we're gonna get those votes.' Now we've gotten those votes and everyone's saying, 'Oh, he's too black now!'"
But it's not only his race. Obama's opponents have also criticized him as an out of touch academic.
"I'm not out of central casting as a presidential candidate," Obama admitted. "I've got to work harder for those votes. African Americans may be obviously more attracted to my candidacy. College educated voters may have gotten more familiar with me or have read my books. And with blue collar voters who are worried day to day how to move their lives forward and pay the bills, they haven't had the time, the chance to see who I am or what I stand for. And over the last month, all they've heard about is a pastor who's said a bunch of offensive stuff that offends their sense of patriotism. So, we're gonna have to do some work."
Obama Equates Clinton's Iran Talk With Bush Policies
Obama spent most of his day shuttling from event to event, in an attempt to drum up additional support down the stretch. And while he did, he criticized Clinton's proposed summertime break from the federal gasoline tax as "a phony scheme that nobody thinks is going to work.
"Nobody believes these savings would actually be passed on to consumers. Everybody believes that the oil companies would just jack up their prices to match whatever the reduction was on the gas tax," he said. "It would empty out the highway trust fund."
Obama said Clinton knows better.
"If we take seriously the desire to break our addiction on foreign oil, that we're going to solve this problem long term, as well as giving people short-term relief, and that's what people are looking for. Serious solutions are not the same old stuff that gets you through the next election," he said.
Obama also took aim at Clinton over comments she made on April 22. In an interview on ABC's "Good Morning America," Clinton said America would be able to "obliterate" Iran if the country attacked U.S. ally Israel with nuclear weapons.
"Well, I think there's a difference between talking tough and being tough," Obama said. "And that's been one of my criticisms of George Bush's foreign policy. Talking tough, then invading Iraq, and producing Iran as the biggest strategic winner in our invasion, is not being tough."
Obama also implied that Clinton's stance on Iran was hypocritical.
"Sen. Clinton, who, this last summer, was suggesting that we shouldn't be engaging in hypotheticals, [is] now going around talking about obliterating Iran," he said. "That's not, I think, a clean break from the George Bush policies that have gotten us in trouble."
"I've been very clear with respect to Iran," he continued. "I've said if they attacked Israel that we would consider that an attack on us and we would take forceful action against Iran. I've said that I would not take military actions off the table, but what I've also said, that is, in order for us to curb the bad behavior of Iran, we've got to have direct talks and direct communications so that we are offering both carrots and sticks, and that they understand that they have choices, that there is not an inevitability of military action against Iran, but they are going to have to change their behavior."
Obama called for a more "tempered, measured" approach in order to mobilize allies.
"What we need is consistency and strength, not bluster and saber rattling, and if that's what Sen. Clinton is offering, then she's essentially offering the same thing that George Bush offered for the last seven and a half years," he said. "That has not made us safer, and I do not think that is where the country needs to go."