Chicago: Barack Obama expressed frustration that racial issues keep rising to the top of his battle with Hillary Rodham Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination, but he said the great majority of voters will base their decisions on substantive issues.
At a news conference Wednesday, Obama said he feels his primary victories in an array of states have proven he can draw support from all races and regions, and that he is not overly reliant on black voters.
“We keep on thinking we’ve dispelled this,” he said. “And it keeps on getting raised once again.”
In handily winning Tuesday’s Mississippi primary, Obama took about 90% of the black vote and 30% of the white vote, according to exit polls. Similar results in other Deep South states have raised questions of whether Obama’s strong black support is nudging some white Democrats into Clinton’s column.
There was some evidence of that in exit polls in Ohio, which Clinton won. Analysts say a similar pattern could emerge in Pennsylvania, the next primary, on 22 April.
Obama said some voters might favor or disfavor him because he is black, just as some might favor or disfavor Clinton because she is female.
However, he said, “the overwhelming majority of Americans are going to make these decisions based on who they think will be the best president. I have absolute confidence that if I’m doing my job, if I’m delivering my message, then there are very few voters out there that I can’t win.”
“If I’m not winning them over,” he said, “then it’s my fault.”
At the 45-minute session with reporters at the Chicago Museum of History, the Illinois senator couched his criticisms of Clinton in fairly gentle terms.
He mocked her suggestion that he cannot win large states that will be key battlegrounds in November. He noted he won the Democratic primaries in Wisconsin, Missouri, Colorado, Iowa and Virginia, all of which should be fiercely contested this fall against Republican John McCain.
President George W. Bush on Wednesday said McCain is running on a “clear, consistent and conservative agenda”, a nudge to the Republicans’ conservative base, which has long viewed McCain skeptically for working with Democrats on issues it detests.
“I’m optimistic about this year because I know John McCain. I’ve know him for many years. I’ve seen his character and leadership up close,” Bush said at a Republican fundraiser. “I’ve campaigned with him and I’ve campaigned against him and I can tell you this: He’s a tough competitor.” Bush beat McCain for the 2000 Republican nomination.
Obama opened his event flanked by nine retired military officers who said he is fully capable of being commander in chief, a response to Clinton’s suggestions that he is unready and untested.
Retired Air Force Gen. Tony McPeak praised Obama for opposing a “dumb war” in Iraq. He said Obama has the steady temperament a leader needs, and called him “No-Shock Barack, No-Drama Obama.”
Obama responded to a former adviser’s recent suggestion that he might withdraw US troops from Iraq more slowly than he has promised, because of military considerations in Iraq. He said he would summon his top military officers “and the entire national security apparatus, and give them a commission, which is that we are going to withdraw from Iraq. And we’re going to be as careful getting out as we were careless getting in.”
In the overall race for delegates, Obama had 1,598 delegates to 1,487 for Clinton. It takes 2,025 to win the nomination at the party’s national convention in Denver in late August. With neither appearing able to win enough delegates through primaries and caucuses to claim the nomination, the importance of nearly 800 elected officials and party leaders who will attend the national convention as unelected superdelegates is increasing.
Obama leads Clinton among pledged delegates in The Associated Press count, while the New York senator and former first lady has an advantage among superdelegates.
Other than Pennsylvania, the remaining contests are in Indiana, North Carolina, West Virginia, Kentucky, Oregon, Puerto Rico, Montana, South Dakota and Guam.
On the Republican side, the AFL-CIO labor federation said Wednesday it will have protesters follow McCain around the country to demand explanations on his positions on economic and labor issues. The effort is part of a wide-ranging campaign aimed at linking McCain with what union officials call the Bush administration’s failed economic policies.
The McCain campaign denounced the AFL-CIO’s plans as partisan politics.