Obama Speaks in Philadelphia as Race Debate Flares

Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) speaks to supporters at the Community College of Beaver County March 17,

Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) speaks to supporters at the Community College of Beaver County March 17, 2008 in Monaca, Pennsylvania. Jeff Swensen//Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Jeff Swensen//Getty Images

The issue of race has been present throughout the contest for the Democratic nomination, and it's bubbling to the surface as the comments of Barack Obama's pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, have come under scrutiny.

Today in Philadelphia, Obama will give a speech — his campaign says a "major address on race, politics and unifying our country" — in which he's expected to address Wright's comments.

The Chicago pastor is getting more exposure than ever. TV networks and Web sites have endlessly repeated sermons, like one on black men in prison. In the midst of all that attention, Obama, a member of Wright's former congregation, delivers his speech today.

Obama's campaign is calling the speech "an important moment." It' a moment when he's going to try to reassure supporters and doubters that he's the kind of leader they think he is, NPR's David Greene tells Steve Inskeep, adding that Obama will be trying to drive the narrative on race rather than respond to it.

Obama had to respond to some of the video clips of Wright. He has called some of what Wright said appalling and inflammatory, Greene says. Wright plays a very important role in Chicago, and Obama says he lives his life by the gospel that Wright preaches. But Obama also says that Wright is his pastor, not his political adviser, Greene says.

He has been forced to distance himself from Wright but also to acknowledge that Wright has played a substantial role in his life.

"I think we'll be hearing Obama explain that today in Philadelphia," Greene says.

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