North Carolina Voters Assess Obama-Wright Flap

Sen. Barack Obama used strong words Tuesday in a bid to distance himself from his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. What do black voters in North Carolina think about the issue?

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Now to politics. For months now, polls have shown Senator Barack Obama attracting more than 80 percent of the African-American vote in Indiana and North Carolina. Those states both hold primaries next Tuesday.

NPR's Adam Hochberg went to Durham, North Carolina to find out if the latest controversy over Senator Obama's pastor, Jeremiah Wright, has affected that support. And he found little indication of any change.

ADAM HOCHBERG: One place where you can sense Barack Obama's popularity in Durham is a place called the No, an African-American bookstore and restaurant that sells the works of black authors on one side, and serves barbeque sandwiches and bean pie on the other.

Like all the people who stopped in for lunch today, teacher Sylvia Davis(ph) is an Obama supporter. And she dismisses the Wright controversy as a divisive effort by the senator's opponents to bring him down.

Ms. SYLVIA DAVIS (Teacher): Dr. Wright has every right to hash his opinion. He's a prophet. He has a message for us today. Now, on the other hand, I am in love with Barack Obama. They're both doing what they both should be doing at this point in time.

HOCHBERG: Davis was one of several people at the No who are familiar with Reverend Wright's books. The store usually stocks them, so they're sold out now. David Reeves(ph) says he's read some of them, but he was surprised by the pastor's recent comments.

Mr. DAVID REEVES: Through his books I thought he was a remarkable person, with the things that he did, you know, building the church there in Chicago. But I don't know how he got caught up in what he's got caught up in now. I'm surprised to hear that he really talked against a lot of things that Obama stood for.

HOCHBERG: Reeves says Obama's association with Wright probably will cost him support among white voters. And he says there's a good bit of worry in the black community about how it affects Obama's chances of becoming president.

Unidentified Woman: This way. Come this way. Stripe (unintelligible).

HOCHBERG: Some Obama supporters in North Carolina already have cast their votes for him. Early voting stations have been open for two weeks. And today in Durham, a steady stream of people came to vote on the campus of a historically black college, passing a line of campaign volunteers outside, trying to win their support in local races.

Mr. JOE BELL: I'm Joe Bell(ph), a county commission candidate.

Unidentified Woman: You know about Hansen Dillenger(ph)? He's from right here in Durham, for lieutenant governor?

HOCHBERG: After Clem Galop(ph) cast his vote for Obama, he said he was glad to see the senator disavow the reverend yesterday.

Mr. CLEM GALOP: I don't think he distanced himself from him as a person, but from his ideas so that people are not confused. You know, I've heard several sermons in different churches and I can respect that person's opinion, but I have my own opinions and beliefs.

HOCHBERG: And Obama supporter Charlene Lee(ph) blamed Hillary Clinton's campaign and the media for the controversy, and she alleges they're doing it because Obama and Wright are African-American.

Ms. CHARLENE LEE: You know, we're trying not to sort of race into this election, but it's there. It's just like a big elephant there - it's always there. And yes, I do think that a lot of people who were continually harping on this Wright-Obama thing, those are the ones I think are trying to interject race into the election.

HOCHBERG: Lee says she and a lot of African-Americans disagree with Wright's beliefs. But she says she goes to church not to follow the words of a person, but to follow the word of God, and as an Obama supporter she suspects the senator feels the same way.

Adam Hochberg, NPR News.

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