From NBC/NJ's Athena Jones
DURHAM, NC -- With less than 24 hours to go before voters in North Carolina and Indiana hit the polls, Obama summed up the case for his candidacy to an undecided voter at town hall here in the Research Triangle area.
Obama said, in part, that voters found him more trustworthy than his opponent, and he sought to argue that his biggest potential problems -- issues that could cause pause among some voters like his association with Rev. Jeremiah Wright -- had all come out.
The woman said her biggest concern was choosing the most electable candidate. Obama said he was going to try to win her over, and he launched into a long soliloquy on why she should choose him, beginning by talking about the success his campaign had had attracting voters who want to change the old Washington politics and about his belief that the current state of the economy and the country as a whole was an opportunity to gain voters across party lines.
"When 80% of the country says the country is on the wrong track, that means you can attract independents and some Republicans into a coalition to really not just win an election but govern -- and that's been the idea behind this campaign and we've been very successful," he said.
As he has done in recent days at a press conference and in television interviews, Obama acknowledged he had had a rough few weeks, but said he was still going strong, in spite of the bad press. "Once you're a front-runner, then it is, I think, the obligation of the candidates who are behind to try to whack you over the head, and the press is happy to oblige. And so there was a kitchen-sink strategy employed that was throwing a whole bunch of stuff at me, and we made some mistakes -- some self-inflicted and, you know, most recently obviously there's been this furor over remarks of my former pastor which there's no doubt we took a hit on," he said. "But if you think about it, as tough a press month as we've had and as many attempts to knock us off stride as there have been, the fact that we're still standing here and still moving forward towards the nomination, I think, indicates the degree to which the core message of this campaign is the right one: That it's not enough just to replace the party in White House, but we've got to change how politics is done.
He went on to say it was important for the American people to see their president as someone who could be trusted. "I think the majority of people do find me trustworthy, more than they do the other candidate, and we can't solve problems if people don't think that their leaders are telling them the truth," he said "If they think their leader is just saying whatever it is that helps them get to the next election, you can never ask them for sacrifice because they're thinking 'Well I don't want to be played for a sap, a patsy. So there's something about our campaign that's right, that's true and I think can tap into the American people's spirit for change."
The Illinois senator sought to knock down the argument put forth by the Clinton campaign that he could not win big states (like Pennsylvania and California), saying polls showed just the opposite and argued he was be the best candidate to go up against presumptive Republican nominee John McCain on a long list of issues where they disagree, from the economy to Iraq to healthcare to college affordability.
In talking about having maintained strength in some polls, Obama also suggested -- in what seemed like a daring challenge to his critics -- that the problems his opponent could bring up had been exhausted. "Despite the problems we've had in the last month, which basically exhaust my problems -- I mean you know that folks are reaching when the big attack on me is I'm not wearing a flag pin or that I served on a board with a guy who was a member of the Weathermen back in the 1960s, they're reaching, you know. This is the best they could do," he said.
And he tried to shoot down Clinton's contention that she had been vetted, saying the arguments against her would be recycled. "Don't buy into this electability argument," he said in closing. "Go with who you think best represents you vision of where America needs to go. And if you do that, I'm absolutely confident that that person will win. I think this is opportunity to make a clear break from the past."
Many of the questions during the gathering here of some 150 people -- a crowd that was about 80% white, 20% minority -- focused on clean energy, but Obama also touched on the gas tax holiday issue again.