Obama: Change Motivating Voters, Not Race

Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama swept three states in Sunday's caucuses and primaries. Calling in from the campaign trail, Obama says his contest with Sen. Hillary Clinton is not dividing along racial lines, pointing to his across-the-board victory in Washington.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

And joining us live now is Senator Barack Obama. Welcome, Senator.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois, Presidential Candidate): Hi, how are you, Liane?

HANSEN: Very well, thanks. A big night for you. I want to remind everybody that you won contests last night in Louisiana, Washington State and Nebraska. You have you eyes set on the caucuses in the state of Maine. How do you feel?

Sen. OBAMA: Well, you know, we feel good. Obviously we've got a long way to go. This is going to be a close contest, I think, all the way through. But what's clear is that all across America - the South, Midwest, Northeast, Pacific Northwest - you know, people are desperately looking for something different. And they want in particular, I think, an end to Bush domestic policies that have made it harder for people to stay in their home, harder to find jobs, harder to afford college. And they're also concerned about a new foreign policy that will get our troops out of Iraq.

HANSEN: A little bit about last night in Louisiana. You garnered a majority of the African-American votes. Are you concerned that voters are splitting along racial lines?

Sen. OBAMA: You know, I think that's a very hard argument to make. There are not a lot of African-Americans in Nebraska the last time I checked, or in Utah or in Idaho, areas where I probably won some of my biggest margins. So I know the press has been obsessed with the racial divide. But you know, that's just not how it's playing out across the country.

HANSEN: Yes. But some exit polls are showing that you are garnering more African-American votes than you are...

Sen. OBAMA: Well, there's no doubt that I'm getting more African-American vote, but that doesn't mean that the race is dividing along racial lines. You know, in places like Washington State we won across the board, from men, from women, from African-Americans, from whites and from Asians.

HANSEN: So there's still a rainbow coalition in this country?

Sen. OBAMA: Absolutely.

HANSEN: You've been reaching out also to independents. And if you win the nomination, you're going to try hard to get their vote. But Senator John McCain also has support among independents. How do you plan to convince the independents to vote for you?

Sen. OBAMA: Well, we've done very well so far. And I think it has to do with a tone that I take that says that, you know, what divides us is less significant than what we have in common. And I think that's something that appeals to independents. They're very leery of the dogma and the ideology and the sharp partisanship that has characterized our politics over the last couple of decades.

And that's why, you know, every poll shows that I do better among independents than any other Democratic candidate and that I'm beating John McCain, because I actually attract more independents than he does in a head-to-head match-up.

HANSEN: Senator Obama, I'd like you to stay on the line with us. Simply because of the format of this radio station we have to give a signal to our stations.

Sen. OBAMA: No problem.

HANSEN: So I'll let them know that this is NPR News.

We're back with Senator Obama. I'm interested - in a different part of this program we heard Richard Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals say that if you're the nominee, centrist and moderate evangelicals might go for you over Senator McCain. How do you respond to that or react to that?

Sen. OBAMA: Well, I'm encouraged by it. And one of the things that I've talked about during the course of this campaign is the importance of Democrats reaching out to evangelicals. You know, the evangelical community is much more diverse than I think people give them credit for.

And you know, there are those who have aligned themselves with a very conservative political approach, and I promise you I won't get their votes. On the other end, there are individuals like Rick Warren or T.D. Jakes, big mega-church pastors around the country who are spending a lot of time thinking about HIV/AIDS and poverty and the environment.

And you know, I think that they may not agree with me on every issue, but they - but they do know that I care about many of the things that they care about. And the fact that I'm a Christian and somebody who cares about their values I think means that we can make some inroads.

But it's important for Democrats to show up. I mean, one of the mistakes that we made, I think, over the last couple of decades is just to assume that people who go to church won't vote for us, and so we stopped going. And we didn't appear on Christian broadcasting, we didn't appear on Christian radio stations.

And as a consequence, you know, that vacuum was filled by those who took the narrowest approach to interpretation of the Christian faith. And I think that's something that we can change.

HANSEN: Senator, you've been crisscrossing the country, popping up in one state after another. You're in Maine now. When was the last time you had a family dinner?

Sen. OBAMA: You know, we had a family dinner, well, not a family dinner. I took my wife out for her birthday on January 17th. We were campaigning but she was in Las Vegas and I took her out to dinner. You know, probably the last time that I have been home for the entire night was about two weeks ago.

HANSEN: Oh.

Sen. OBAMA: This is the hardest thing about this race, 'cause I've got two gorgeous girls who love their daddy.

HANSEN: And want to see him more often.

Sen. OBAMA: Want to see me more often.

HANSEN: Well...

Sen. OBAMA: So we're hoping to get this wrapped up. My understanding is that arranging family dinners in the White House may be a little bit easier than being a candidate for the presidency.

HANSEN: Thank you very much, Senator Barack Obama.

Sen. OBAMA: Thank you so much.

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