Democratic Senator Barack Obama strongly denounced his former pastor after Jeremiah Wright repeated earlier suggestions that the US deserved some blame for the Sept. 11 attacks and that the government had had a hand in spreading AIDS to blacks.
Barack Obama said Tuesday he was outraged at his fiery former pastor, casting loose his friend of 20 years in a bid to mend damage to his White House hopes at a pivotal point of the campaign.
The Democratic Senator flashed with anger as he denounced comments by Reverend Jeremiah Wright, who once claimed AIDS was a racist government plot and said after the September 11 attacks that blacks sing "God Damn America."
Obama's attempt to quell the drama, at a surprise press conference, came a week before his next clash with Democratic rival Hillary Clinton in the Indiana and North Carolina primaries, as their frenetic race reaches its end-game.
"I am outraged by the comments that were made and saddened over the spectacle that we saw yesterday," Obama said, portraying Wright, who made headlines in Washington Monday, as antithetical to his calls for unity.
"I have known Reverend Wright for almost 20 years," he said of the man who conducted his marriage and baptized his two daughters, as he spoke to reporters in Winston Salem, North Carolina.
"The person I saw yesterday was not the person that I met 20 years ago.
"His comments were not only divisive and destructive but I believe they end up giving comfort to those that prey on hate. I believe that they do not portray accurately the perspective of the black Church.
"They certainly don't portray accurately my values and beliefs. If Reverend Wright thinks that is political posturing, as he put it, then he doesn't know me very well.
"Based on his remarks yesterday, then I might not know him as well as I thought either."
Obama addressed a growing furor over Wright after the preacher carried out a flurry of media appearances over the weekend.
In a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington on Monday, Wright said attacks on his comments were not directed at himself or Obama, but were an attempt to damage the black Church by people who knew nothing about it.
The row over his comments appears to have hampered Obama's attempts to challenge Clinton for the support of white, working-class conservative voters, and has fanned Republican attacks which could damage him in a general election.
A new Howey-Gauge poll Tuesday in Indiana, which votes on May 6, showed Obama locked in a statistical dead heat with Clinton, leading by 47 to 45 points, well within the four point margin of error.
In North Carolina, which votes on the same day, a Rasmussen poll had the Illinois senator leading Clinton by leading by 51 to 37 points, in a state he is expected to win.
Obama noted in his press conference that he had given Wright "the benefit of the doubt" by refusing to disown him in a major speech on race in Philadelphia in March, and expressed acute personal disappointment.
"I want to use this press conference to make people absolutely clear that obviously whatever relationship I had with Reverend Wright has changed, as a consequence of this," Obama said.
"I want to make absolutely clear, that I do not subscribe to the views he expressed, I believe they are wrong, they are destructive."
Wright rocked the Democratic race when videos of his inflammatory sermons appeared on YouTube and were picked up by US cable television stations.
In one incendiary video, Wright said black citizens should not sing "God Bless America" but "God Damn America" over their treatment by whites.
He also said that the September 11 attacks in 2001 were a payback for US foreign policies overseas.
There was no immediate reaction to Obama's press conference from Clinton, who was campaigning in Indiana and North Carolina.
But she told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review newspaper this month that Wright "would not have been my pastor."
"You don't choose your family, but you choose what church you want to attend," she was quoted as saying.
The former first lady meanwhile got a boost going into the North Carolina primary, securing the endorsement of the state's governor, Mike Easley.
"This lady right here makes Rocky Balboa look like a pansy," said Easley, who is popular with working-class white voters, referring to the fictional boxer portrayed on the big screen by Sylvester Stallone.
Date created : 2008-04-30