From NBC/NJ's Mike Memoli
CAPE CANAVERAL, FL -- Obama said today that he doesn't think the notion that he is arrogant -- advanced this week by the McCain campaign in TV ads and Web videos -- has stuck in the American psyche, challenging that while the Republicans are good at negative campaigning, they fail when it comes to governing. He also responded to questions of race in the campaign, saying the McCain campaign was not "racist," but "cynical."
"That's why, if you think about this week, what they've been good at is distraction," Obama told reporters at a press conference this morning. "You've got statistics saying we've lost another 50,000 jobs. That Florida's in recession for the first time in a decade and a half. And what was being talked about were Paris and Britney. And so they're clever on creating distractions from the issues that really matter in people's lives."
But perceptions matter, and Obama was asked how he could fight the view that he's being arrogant or presumptuous. "You know, I don't know that there's that perception," he said. "That's something that's being fed to the media by them... And I think what would be useful is to ask the question, what's this based on?... If I was presumptuous or taking this for granted, I wouldn't be working this hard this week. I'm beat."
Later, Obama actually repeated Republican attack lines of the past few weeks, point by point. And he signaled that he would not be tempted to go on the offensive with negative attacks of his own. "What I think we've got to do is just keep on driving home the essential message of this campaign -- which is we've got to change business as usual," he said. "We've got to change economic policies, and we've got to change Washington. And we've got to change how our politics is done."
Obama also was asked about his comments this week regarding what he said would be the Republican attack, comments which the McCain campaign said were playing the race card. Obama turned back to the room of reporters noting that many were on hand in Missouri when he said things like the fact he didn't look like presidents on currency.
"Almost none of you, maybe none of you, thought that I was making a racially incendiary remark or playing the race card," he said. "It wasn't until John McCain's team started pushing it, that it ended up being on the front page of the New York Times two days in a row."
He then looked broadly, repeating the idea that he does not "come out of central casting," noting, "I'm young, I'm new to the national scene, my name is Barack Obama, I am African-American, I was born in Hawaii, I spent time in Indonesia. I do not have the typical biography of a presidential candidate."
"Let me be clear," he said later. "In no way do I think that John McCain's campaign was being racist, I think they're cynical. And I think they want to distract people from talking about the real issues."
The Illinois senator also claimed today that his view of offshore drilling has not changed. He still believes that it is not a cure-all to the energy crisis, and that "if we want to have true energy independence then we're going to have to become much more efficient in terms of how we use energy."
"I remain skeptical of some of the drilling provisions," he said. "What I don't want to do is for the best to be the enemy of the good here. And if we can come up with a genuine bipartisan compromise, in which I have to accept some things I don't like or the Democrats have to accept some things that they don't like in exchange for actually moving us in the direction of energy independence, then that is something I am open to."
Asked if this was the latest in a line of issues in which he could be accused of softening his positions, Obama said that he's more interested in governing, not politics.
"We're going to try to get things done. That's what the American people are looking for," he said. "I have very clear ideas about where America needs to go. I also recognize that in the House and the Senate there are Republicans who have very clear ideas about what they want. And at some point people are going to have to make decisions."