Obama feels the heat from his pas­tor’s com­ments

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - MICHAEL BARONE

Is the bot­tom fall­ing out for Barack Obama? It’s too early to say, but there are some dis­turb­ing signs. On the pos­i­tive side, su­perdel­e­gates still are break­ing his way. Rep. Baron Hill, whose south­ern In­di­ana dis­trict al­most cer­tainly will vote for Hil­lary Clin­ton, came out for Mr. Obama. So did fel­low Hoosier Joe Andrew, who pre­vi­ously en­dorsed Mrs. Clin­ton and who was named Demo­cratic na­tional chair­man by Bill Clin­ton in the 1990s. (James Carville may have an­other name for him.) Mr. Obama is still well ahead among del­e­gates cho­sen in pri­maries and cau­cuses, and he is not very far be­hind in su­perdel­e­gates, ei­ther.

But what about the vot­ers? Here there are some omi­nous signs. The latest Fox News poll, con­ducted af­ter the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s ap­pear­ance at the Na­tional Press Club, showed Mr. Obama’s fa­vor­able/un­fa­vor­ables at 63 per­cent to 27 per­cent among Democrats, com­pared to Hil­lary Clin­ton’s 73 per­cent to 22 per­cent. Sud­denly she’s not the only one with high neg­a­tives. And 36 per­cent of Democrats say they would be dis­in­clined to vote for Mr. Obama be­cause of his long­time re­la­tion­ship with his for­mer pas­tor.

There’s more bad news in the Pew Re­search Cen­ter poll of Democrats. Mr. Obama’s na­tional lead among Democrats is down from 49 per­cent to 39 per­cent to a sta­tis­ti­cally in­signif­i­cant 47 per­cent to 45 per­cent.

Th­ese re­sults are not out­liers. The Ras­mussen track­ing poll showed Mr. Obama lead­ing Mrs. Clin­ton 49 to 41 per­cent be­fore Mr. Wright spoke to the Na­tional Press Club. Af­ter­ward the num­bers were 46 to 44 per­cent in fa­vor of Mrs. Clin­ton.

The Gallup Poll had Mr. Obama lead­ing Mrs. Clin­ton 50 per­cent to 41 per­cent the night be­fore the Penn­syl­va­nia pri­mary. The re­sults re­ported May 1 were Mrs. Clin­ton 49 per­cent, Mr. Obama 45 per­cent.

Mr. Obama’s stand­ing as a gen­eral elec­tion can­di­date also seems to have taken a hit. Gallup showed him tied with John McCain 45 per­cent to 45 per­cent be­fore the Wright ap­pear­ance and trail­ing 47 per­cent to 43 per­cent af­ter­ward; at the same time, it showed Hil­lary Clin­ton tied with Mr. McCain 46 per­cent to 46 per­cent. Sim­i­larly, Ras­mussen has Mr. McCain now ahead of Mr. Obama 46 per­cent to 43 per­cent and Mr. McCain tied with Mrs. Clin­ton 44 per­cent to 44 per­cent.

All the num­bers in this del­uge tell the same story. Not just lib­eral but also many con­ser­va­tive com­men­ta­tors said Mr. Obama’s speech on race March 18, in re­sponse to ABC News‘ broad­cast­ing of excerpts from Mr. Wright’s ser­mons, had solved any prob- lems he had with vot­ers, or at least with Demo­cratic vot­ers. And it was hard to ar­gue with that con­clu­sion, at least as to Democrats. Mr. Obama’s loss in Penn­syl­va­nia April 22, in line with ex­pec­ta­tions, didn’t nec­es­sar­ily con­tra­dict that. The re­sponse to Mr. Obama’s re­pu­di­a­tion April 29, in re­sponse to Mr. Wright’s re­marks April 28, is clearly dif­fer­ent.

One rea­son is that Mr. Obama now has taken two di­a­met­ri­cally op­posed stands on the min­is­ter whose church he at­tended for 20 years, who mar­ried him and his wife and bap­tized their chil­dren, whose ser­mon in­spired the ti­tle of his 2006 book, “The Au­dac­ity of Hope.“ On March 18, his re­sponse was: No, I can­not re­nounce my pas­tor. On April 29, his re­sponse was: Yes, I can.

An­other and more im­por­tant rea­son is that Mr. Obama’s long as­so­ci­a­tion with a min­is­ter who says that the fed­eral gov­ern­ment man­u­fac­tured the AIDS virus to kill black peo­ple, who likens Amer­i­can sol­diers to ter­ror­ists, who cel­e­brates Louis Far­rakhan as a great man — that long as­so­ci­a­tion tends to un­der­mine the cen­tral theme of Mr. Obama’s can­di­dacy. Mr. Obama has pre- sented him­self since his 2004 Demo­cratic Na­tional Con­ven­tion speech as a leader who can unite Amer­ica across po­lit­i­cal and racial di­vides. He pre­sented him­self to Amer­i­can vot­ers, most of whom, I be­lieve, think it would be a very good thing if we elected a black pres­i­dent. (I per­son­ally feel that way.)

“In the blue states,” Mr. Obama told the con­ven­tion in Bos­ton and the na­tion watch­ing on TV, “we wor­ship an awe­some God.” Now it turns out that the God wor­shipped in the Rev. Wright’s church was “awe­some” in ways we didn’t ex­pect.

The ap­peals of Mr. Obama and Hil­lary Clin­ton will be tested in the May 6 pri­maries in North Carolina and In­di­ana, the na­tion’s 10th- and 15th-most pop­u­lous states. The Real Clear Pol­i­tics av­er­age of re­cent polling shows Mr. Obama’s share of the two-can­di­date vote in North Carolina at 54 per­cent, down from 59 per­cent in April, and Mrs. Clin­ton with 53 per­cent of the two-can­di­date vote in In­di­ana, where she trailed not long ago.

A few pun­dits still are say­ing Mr. Obama’s choice of pas­tor is a dis­trac­tion, an ir­rel­e­vancy. But some vot­ers, per­haps in the be­lief that a pres­i­dent’s judg­ment and val­ues have im­por­tant con­se­quences, don’t agree.

Michael Barone is a na­tion­ally syn­di­cated colum­nist.

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