From NBC/NJ's Athena Jones
WINSTON-SALEM, NC -- Obama opened a somber, nearly half-hour press conference this afternoon by saying he was outraged and saddened by Wright's comments to the National Press Club in Washington the previous day and that the Wright who spoke those words was not the man he had met 20 years ago.
Wright has been a particularly thorny issue for Obama, since snippets of his sermons -- which many viewed as divisive and unpatriotic -- aired repeatedly on YouTube and cable television last month in the lead-up to the Pennsylvania primary. The remarks threatened to alienate the white, working-class voters Obama has been attempting to woo away from Clinton in recent contests, with little success.
Obama has framed his candidacy -- or it has been framed for him -- in "post-racial" terms and many of his supporters have been inspired by a campaign that cast itself as one about unifying people across ethnicities, creeds, and political parties. A close association with a man whose message is seen as divisive would damage that over-arching theme, something the senator acknowledged.
Obama said he had given his pastor the benefit of the doubt during his speech on race in Philadelphia and had spoken to him after delivering that speech, though he would not elaborate on their conversation. But the senator said there was no excuse for Wright's comments yesterday linking the US government to the creation of AIDS, praising Louis Farrakhan, and connecting US wartime efforts to terrorism.
"His comments were not only divisive and destructive, but I believe that they end up giving comfort to those who prey on hate and I believe that they do not portray accurately the perspective of the Black Church," he said. "They certainly don't portray accurately my values and beliefs and if Rev Wright thinks that's political posturing, as he put it, then he doesn't know me very well and based on his remarks yesterday, well I may not know him as well as I thought either."
Speaking slowly, deliberately and at times sternly, Obama repeatedly said Wright's comments contradicted everything his campaign was about, all that he had worked for throughout his life and his vision for America, while acknowledging his former pastor had a right to make his views known.
He called Wright's "performance" an exploitative spectacle, and while he praised the work of Wright's ministry in the community, he said his relationship with the man had suffered "great damage". Still, he declined to say it had been irreparably damaged, instead focusing on how he defined his relationship with the pastor.
"I know one thing that he said was true was that he wasn't, you know, he was never my quote-unquote spiritual adviser. He was never my spiritual mentor; he was, uh, he was my pastor," Obama said. "And so to some extent how ... the press characterized in the past that relationship, I think, wasn't accurate. But he was somebody who was my pastor and married Michelle and I and baptized my children and prayed with us at uh, when we announced this race - and so I'm disappointed."
The senator declined to speculate on the impact the Wright issue would have on the race, saying the election was in a few days "so we'll find out."