Obama faces questions over ties to controversial minister

Political observers debated Sunday whether Democrat Barack Obama's recently severed relationship with his controversial former minister may put the episode behind him or open new lines of attack for the presidential candidate's opponents.

The Illinois senator was dogged over the weekend about comments made by Jeremiah Wright, the former pastor of a Chicago church who has demonized white people and said the United States brought the 2001 terrorism attacks on itself.

Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., who is backing Obama, said on Fox News Sunday that Obama's denouncing of Wright should end the matter politically. "Guilt by association is not typically American. … People would like to move on to other things," he said.

Conservatives disagreed. They said Obama waited too long to distance himself from Wright and the matter will be raised by his Democratic opponent, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, or by Republicans should he win the Democratic Party's nomination. "This, I think, is a huge story because it contradicts the whole persona and appeal of Obama as a man who transcends race," columnist Charles Krauthammer said. "I think it ought to be explored a lot more deeply."

Wright, former head of Trinity United Church of Christ of Chicago, has said that blacks should say "God damn America" because we are a "country and a culture controlled by rich white people."

On Saturday, Obama denounced Wright's comments and said "I completely reject" them.

Critics say Obama may not have ended the controversy because he has had a relationship with Wright for nearly two decades. Obama had described Wright as his spiritual mentor. He was married in the church, and Wright was a member of Obama's African American Religious Leadership Committee.

"This is a man who he chose to be associated with. It's not a family member," said Juan Williams, a Fox News analyst and National Public Radio correspondent. "It could be a big problem."

He said Obama's relationship with Wright "speaks to his character, and it speaks to the judgment which is the basis on which Barack Obama has been running."

There were hints the controversy may be taking a toll on Obama's candidacy and prospects against presumptive Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain.

Pollster Scott Rasmussen's tracking polls of the presidential race, published on his website Rasmussenreports.com, showed McCain had moved from a tie with Obama nationally, 44%-44%, on Thursday, to a 47%-43% lead on Sunday.

The issue has trained a fresh spotlight on Wright. According to CNN, Wright argued that Clinton's road to the White House is easier because of her skin color: "Barack knows what it means to be a black man living in a country and a culture that is controlled by rich white people."

McCain has also had a run-in with controversial preachers. John Hagee, the leader of San Antonio's Cornerstone Church who has been accused of making disparaging remarks about Catholics, endorsed McCain. And Rod Parsley, leader of the World Harvest Church of Columbus and accused of urging war on Muslims, endorsed him.

McCain was not a member of either minister's church, and he denounced their remarks.