Obama Rides Win, Deflects Clinton Shots

Candidate talks to "This Week" first on the morning after his big S.C. win.

Jan. 27, 2008 — -- Despite a landslide victory in last night's South Carolina primary, Sen. Barack Obama found himself Sunday morning fending off Clinton camp barbs, calling their comparison of him to Jesse Jackson an outdated "frame of reference" for discussing race and politics.

"I think people want change," he said in an interview on ABC News' "This Week with George Stephanopoulos." "I think they want to get beyond some of the racial politics that, you know, has been so dominant in the past. ... I think that the results yesterday spoke for themselves, that people wanted to move beyond some of these old arguments, and they want to look forward to figure out how we pull the country together and move forward."

Much of the interview focused on issues raised repeatedly in recent days and weeks, including Obama's praise of Ronald Reagan and relationship with Tony Rezko.

Democrats in South Carolina voted in record numbers Saturday, with an unprecedented showing by African Americans. Obama won 55 percent of the vote, more than twice the 27 percent won by Sen. Hillary Clinton, and earned the support of 78 percent of black voters compared to Clinton's 19 percent.

Though each of the leading candidates claims not be playing racial politics, turnout in South Carolina demonstrated just how racially stratified the campaign in that state was. Former President Bill Clinton, who Obama has often criticized for playing too vocal a role in his wife's campaign, jabbed the Illinois senator by comparing his victories to those of Jesse Jackson.

Obama responded by staying on the message that earned him wins in Iowa and South Carolina -- change is good.

"Jesse Jackson ran historic races in 1984 and 1988, and there's no doubt that that set a precedent for African Americans running for the highest office in the land," Obama said. "I think people want change. I think they want to get beyond some of the racial politics that, you know, has been so dominant in the past."

But the old issues dogged Obama down in the interview, and had him again clarifying a statement he made in Reno, Nev., earlier this month in which he praised Ronald Reagan, and apologizing again for his relationship with Chicago developer Tony Rezko.

Obama explained he did not agree with many of Reagan's policies but admired the former Republican president for changing decades of political discourse and streamlining the government.

"Ronald Reagan came in during the 1980s, at a time when I think Democrats still dominated Congress, when the view was that we were going to solve our problems oftentimes by expanding government programs -- and he challenged many of those ideas," Obama said. "Keep in mind that back in the 1980s I was working as a community organizer on the streets of Chicago and seeing the consequences of some of the bad ideas that Ronald Reagan had promoted. But the broader point that I was making, George, and I don't think this is something that is subject to dispute, is that Ronald Reagan transformed American politics and set the agenda for a long time."

On his relationship with Rezko, who Hillary Clinton called a "slumlord" in last week's South Carolina debate, Obama called Rezko a "friend and supporter" and offered regrets about purchasing property from him.

"This story has been out there for a year and has been thoroughly gnawed on by the press, both in Chicago and nationally," Obama said. "He was a friend and supporter who I've known for 20 years. Everyone perceived him as a businessman and developer. ... I did make a mistake by purchasing a small strip of property from him. At that time he wasn't under a cloud of a potential investigation."

Obama said he would continue to return money found to come from Rezko associates.

"We've traced any funds we know of and we think are connected to him," Obama said. "If there are other funds connected to him that we're not aware of, then we'll return them. It is in our best interests to do so."

One person Obama was happy to be associated with was former President John F. Kennedy, whose daughter Caroline recently endorsed him.

Much has been made of whether Sen. Ted Kennedy, the president's brother and lion of the Democratic Party, would follow suit by endorsing his young colleague.

"I'll let Ted Kennedy speak for himself. And nobody does it better. But obviously, any of the Democratic candidates would love to have Ted Kennedy's support. And we have certainly actively sought it," Obama said. "And you know, I will let him make his announcement and his decision when he decides it's appropriate."

On the heels of an emergency stimulus package passed last week and fears of a looming recession, Obama said he opposed Clinton's proposal to freeze home loans and recommended creating a fund to help families pay off their mortgages.

"I've said is that we should put forward a $10 billion fund to focus on helping families that are in their homes that have been induced into mortgages that they can't pay, but who are willing to pay the current rates that they have," Obama said. "And I think that is an approach that most observers recognize will prevent the kind of moral hazards where speculators or lenders who made bad loans somehow are bailed out.

"What we have is a situation in which, over the last decade ... the rewards of the economy have all gone to the top 1 percent," he said. "We've seen people who are wealthy, flush with cash, huge amounts of capital, that have been feeding the real estate bubble, the dot-com bubble. But what we haven't seen are ordinary people's incomes and wages going up significantly. .