March 19, 2008 -- Campaigning in North Carolina today, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., enjoyed overwhelmingly warm reviews from the media and the crowd in Charlotte for his speech about race and his controversial former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
But for far different reasons, Republican political consultants were delighted with the speech, as well. Looking ahead to November, GOP strategists say Obama did not remove Wright as a campaign issue.
"He didn't explain why he continued to attend a church whose minister has a long history of divisive and hate-filled rhetoric, when the fundamental message of Obama's campaign is unity and bring us together," said Republican pollster Whit Ayres.
Republicans say they will combine Wright's anti-American rhetoric with other moments — such as Obama's removal of his American flag pin because he felt it had become a substitute for true patriotism, or his not covering his heart during the national anthem last summer.
Other incidents, such as Obama's accepting money from a member of the Weathermen Underground or Michelle Obama's statement about feeling proud of the United States "for the first time in her adult life" because of her husband's campaign, may also be revisited.
Though the details may be inconsequential to some voters, and may be unfair, they may raise doubts about the candidate in other key constituencies.
"Blue collar white voters, what we used to call Reagan Democrats, are very patriotic people," Ayres said, "and if there is any argument that Obama is not as patriotic as they are, it can be a real problem, particularly in states like Pennsylvania."
Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh told listeners, "He's opened this can of worms and this stuff — it's going to keep trickling out — there's more like this."
Others see a more diabolical motive to the attack on Obama's relationship with Wright.
"There are legitimate elements to the controversy, but there is just no question it is going to serve as a cover for some impulses about race," said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.
Obama says he's ready to respond to criticism from conservatives and Republicans.
"The way I will respond to it is with the truth — that I owe everything I am to this country," he told ABC News last month. "When we start getting into those definitions of patriotism, that's a debate I'm happy to have."
And if he's the nominee, it's a debate he surely will have.