Democratic presidential contenders Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are campaigning in North Carolina and Indiana in advance of primaries in both states on May 6. But Obama continues to be drawn into a controversy involving his former pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone reports from Washington.
Senator Obama tried to distance himself from Reverend Wright in a speech on race and politics last month.
Wright has made inflammatory statements in some of his sermons over the years slamming the U.S. government for racist policies and claiming that the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States were retribution for an oppressive foreign policy.
Now, Wright is speaking out in an interview with Bill Moyers of the Public Broadcasting System.
"I felt it was unfair," he said. "I felt it was unjust. I felt it was untrue. I felt that those who were doing that, were doing it for some very devious reason. Having made me the target of hatred, yes, that is very new and something very, very unsettling."
Obama has been trying to undo the political damage from the Wright controversy ever since the story broke. And now Obama finds himself again on the defensive at a time when he is trying to recapture political momentum in the wake of Hillary Clinton's decisive victory in the Pennsylvania primary.
Obama was asked about Wright at a news conference in Indiana.
"I think that what he said in several instances were objectionable, and I understand why the American people took offense," he said. "And as I indicated before, I took offense."
Many Democrats worry that Republicans will use the Wright issue against Obama in the general election campaign if Obama wins the Democratic Party nomination.
Republicans in North Carolina have already prepared a television ad critical of Obama for his relationship with Wright, even though the presumptive Republican nominee, Senator John McCain, urged them not to air it.
McCain spoke on NBC television.
"This kind of campaigning is unacceptable, and I have said that," he said. "It will harm the Republican's cause, and I have done everything that I can to repudiate and to see that this kind of campaigning does not continue."
McCain has been on a weeklong tour of parts of the country affected by poverty, including New Orleans, which was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. McCain described the government's emergency response to Katrina as disgraceful.
But McCain's campaign activities remain overshadowed by the Democratic nomination battle.
Obama is favored in the May 6 primary in North Carolina, while he and Clinton are running even in the latest polls in Indiana, which also votes on the same day.
Clinton told supporters in North Carolina Friday that she wants another debate with Obama.
"The only question I cannot answer is why Senator Obama will not debate me in North Carolina," she said. "And I sure would like to give an answer with a date and a time, and I said I will go anywhere, anytime to have a debate because, you know, the issues in Pennsylvania are not the same as the issues in North Carolina."
The Obama campaign so far has declined to agree to a debate.
Obama victories in both North Carolina and Indiana could cement his status as the frontrunner. He continues to hold a lead in the delegate count.
But Clinton victories in both states could raise fresh doubts about Obama among the so-called superdelegates who will likely supply the margin of victory for one of the two candidates.
Superdelegates are party officeholders and activists who will attend the national convention as uncommitted delegates.
Democratic Party leaders want the superdelegates to rally around a presidential nominee by July 1, well before the national party convention in late August.