PLAINFIELD, Ind. — At a rally here, Sen. Barack Obama said he wouldn’t blame the people in the packed high school gym Saturday if they were “shocked” about “incendiary” statements from his former pastor — words he said he rejected.
“We’ve got a lot of pent-up anger and bitterness and misunderstanding,” said Obama, not mentioning the Rev. Jeremiah Wright by name.
Obama’s day trip from Chicago to this suburb of Indianapolis — Indiana has a May 6 primary — was capped by two fund-raisers in Chicago on Saturday night, a highdollar event at a private home in Lakeview and a lower-priced reception at Gallery 1028.
For the second day, Obama distanced himself from Wright, signaling how concerned the campaign is over Wright’s racially charged — and videotaped — sermons, the subject of recent news stories and postings on the Web.
Obama invoked the name of Bobby Kennedy, who gave a famous speech in Indianapolis the night the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., was assassinated, calling for healing.
The increasingly heated Democratic race between Obama and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has taken on racial tones in recent weeks, fueled in part by voting patterns in a variety of states that have dramatized racial divides as well as the increased scrutiny of late given to Wright, who is retiring from Trinity United Church of Christ.
“The forces of division have started to raise their ugly heads again. And I’m not here to cast blame or point fingers because everybody senses that there’s been this shift. You know, that you’ve been seeing in the reporting. You’ve been seeing some of the commentaries of supporters on all sides,” Obama said.
“Most recently, you heard some statements from my former pastor that were incendiary and that I completely reject, although I knew him and know him as somebody in my church who talked to me about Jesus and family and friendships.”
Obama sought to portray Wright as more than a polarizing figure — someone who bears the scares of racism — while conceding that “if all I knew was those statements that I saw on television, I would be shocked.
“And it just reminds me that we’ve got a tragic history when it comes to race in this country. We’ve got a lot of pent-up anger and bitterness and misunderstanding.”
With all that, Obama drew loud cheers when he added, “But what I continue to believe in is that this country wants to move beyond these kinds of divisions.”
On Friday, Wright left the minor role he had on a campaign advisory board, and Saturday, the Obama campaign would not elaborate on what triggered his departure.
As Obama sought in Indiana to explain Wright as someone who is a throwback to a past of “racial inequality and gender inequality,” he returned to that theme of racial conflict at the fund-raiser at Gallery 1028 on the Near North Side. He said former vice presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro — a Clinton supporter caught up in racially charged comments that forced her off the campaign last week — as well as Wright — “remembers” past struggles. “We’re going to be wrestling with these demons,” Obama said.