McCain Asks N.C. GOP to Pull Ad Attacking Obama

John McCain has asked the North Carolina GOP not to run a television ad that brings up Barack Obama's controversial former pastor. North Carolina Republican Party officials insist the ad will run as planned, starting Monday.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Along with Indiana, North Carolina is next up in the presidential primary stakes, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that a new attack ad is about to air. It portrays Barack Obama as, quote, "too extreme for North Carolina" and features Obama's controversial former minister Jeremiah Wright.

This ad isn't produced by the Hillary Clinton campaign, it's the product of the North Carolina Republican Party. And one critic of the ad is the Republican's own presumptive nominee, John McCain.

Joining us now for some analysis on this is NPR's Juan Williams. Good morning.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: What is it in this ad that offends Senator McCain.

WILLIAMS: Well, you know, there's a video of Reverend Wright, in full fury, damning America. And, as you said, saying that he's too extreme for North Carolina - about Senator Barack Obama. There's also a photo of Barack Obama with Wright - the implication being that Senator Obama heard just this kind of language coming from Reverend Wright. The Republican National Committee chairman, Mike Duncan, has also joined John McCain in condemning the ad, asking that it not run - although the state party and their chair, Linda Davies, say that they are going to run it. They say that this is a matter of patriotism and judgment. But, you know, when you hear Senator McCain and the Republican National Committee chair trying to pull it, I think it suggests that they sense that this could backfire on the party and on Senator McCain if it becomes perceived as an overtly racial attack on the potential Democratic nominee, Senator Obama.

MONTAGNE: But wouldn't John McCain, in a sense, get it both ways here? He takes the high ground, condemns the ad, but also gets some benefit from it.

WILLIAMS: Well, that's exactly right, you know, you can't read his mind but clearly what's going on here, is that he's preparing himself - positioning himself for a general election against Senator Obama and protecting against the possibility that people would say that he's playing on racial antagonism.

Senator McCain this week was in Selma, Alabama at the Edmund Pettis Bridge. He's also touring the Lower Ninth Ward, this week, in New Orleans - that suffered such damage in Hurricane Katrina. He's visited the King Museum in Memphis. He wants to be able to say he has clean hands in the fall, especially given Senator Obama's problem with working class white voters. Just look at what happened this week in Pennsylvania, Rene, where Senator Clinton won 65 percent of white women, 55 percent of white men. I think that you could see where this thing could become very racial, very quickly.

MONTAGNE: Juan, is there a shift among Republicans in terms of which Democratic candidate would be easier to beat.

WILLIAMS: Over the last few days, Renee, it looks as if Republicans now have come to the conclusion that Senator Obama would be easier to beat. As you know, for a long time, the thought was that Senator Clinton - given that she can be polarizing and she had lots of baggage relating back to her husband, Bill Clinton, was really the ideal candidate for Republicans to line up and defeat. But now the sense is that Senator Obama has some real liabilities.

Earlier this month, there was an AP poll that showed that eight percent of white Americans said that they would be uncomfortable voting for a black person to be president. So, you have to also factor in all that happened in Pennsylvania with White working class voters and it looks like what you're going to see here is a real struggle for the Democrats to stand behind Senator Obama, if he's the nominee, and try to make sure that working class white voters - the so-called Reagan Democrats - are not lost to Senator McCain. MONTAGNE: Juan, thanks very much.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR news analyst Juan Williams.

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