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Obama to Attend Selma March Anniversary

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Obama to Attend Selma March Anniversary

Politics

Obama to Attend Selma March Anniversary

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

The presidential primaries maybe a year away, but voters already have strong opinions. The survey out this morning asked voters their opinion of the candidates. The survey comes from the Washington Post and ABC News. In a typical campaign, many presidential candidates would be almost unknown this early.

But this time around, several contenders are famous enough, most voters already have an opinion. The ultimate example may be Hillary Clinton. The survey finds that 49 percent of voters viewed her favorably, 48 percent viewed her unfavorably. Only three percent of those surveyed said they have no opinion. The same survey did some horse race polling - for what it's worth.

On the Republican side, former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani is the leading contender. He's 23 points ahead of John McCain. Among Democrats, Hillary Clinton still leads, but Barack Obama is moving closer.

INSKEEP: And Obama moved closer in part because he is improving his standing among African-American voters. Black voters are crucial in Democratic primaries, which maybe why extra attention will be paid to a ceremony this weekend. Civil rights leaders will mark an anniversary and the speakers will include Senator Obama.

MONTAGNE: They'll commemorate Bloody Sunday. That's the day in 1965 that civil rights marchers were beaten in Selma, Alabama. So the occasion is solemn, but also inevitably political. Senator Hillary Clinton will also speak in Selma this weekend.

INSKEEP: At his Capitol Hill office this week, Barack Obama spoke about the campaign and his coming journey to Selma. He was just three years old when the marchers were attacked there. He's going now at the invitation of one of the men who was beaten - Congressman John Lewis.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois): You know, it's something that I'd always wanted to do, and John Lewis is a dear friend and a hero of mine. He had been asking me, repeatedly. This year, he wanted me - and he also wanted me to speak at the event. And so I told my staff, let's really try to make it work this year.

INSKEEP: When you talk about speeches, do you try to talk in the same way to a black audience as a white audience?

Sen. OBAMA: You know, I think that the themes are consistent. I think there's a certain black idiom that it's hard not to slip into when you're talking to a black audience because of the audience response. It's the classic call and response. You know, anybody who's spent time in a black church knows what I mean. And so, you know, you get a little loser. It becomes more - a little more like jazz, and a little less like a - like a set score.

INSKEEP: What about in questions of substance or what you emphasize?

Senator OBAMA: Typically, that doesn't change. Whatever the audience, I'm typically talking about America's capacity to transform itself, our ability to change and make this a more just and equal nation, despite what looked like daunting odds.

INSKEEP: Given that you're running in Democratic primaries where the black vote is so important, but other slices of the vote are very important, too, do you feel that you have to prove yourself to black leaders or to civil rights leaders?

Senator OBAMA: You know, I really don't. You know, I think it's instructive to look at how I ran my U.S. Senate campaign. When I first started that race, I was not only registering poorly in the polls because nobody knew who I was. But it was really not that much different in the African-American community. And in the end, I ended up getting 80 or 90 percent of the African-American vote, but I also won the white vote.

So, I think that the African-American community is more sophisticated than - I think the pundits sometimes give them credit for. The notion that right now I'm not dominating the black vote in the polls, makes perfect sense because I've only been in the national scene for a certain number of years, and people don't yet know what my track record is. And so…

INSKEEP: Will you need to dominate that vote in order to win?

Senator OBAMA: I will be speaking to themes that are important to that community. But I don't expect to get monolithic African-American vote, because I think that we have some strong candidates on the field and it will be presumptuous of me to assume that people would vote for me, simply because of my race.

INSKEEP: Hillary Clinton, who's also decided to speak in Selma this weekend, has a lot of black leadership support. Our correspondent, Juan Williams, recently interviewed a number of black leaders about you. One of them was Bobby Rush, the congressman who defeated you one time.

Senator OBAMA: He did more than just defeat me. He spanked me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: Well, he may - this may count as another spanking, I don't know, but I'll just read you this quote. He said, referring to you, "I'm a race politician, and he's not. I don't compromise. I don't step back. I don't try to deny I'm proud to be an African-American." What does that make you think of when you hear quote like that?

Senator OBAMA: Well, you know, it's always hard for me to know the context of these quotes. I mean, Bobby endorsed my race and encouraged me to get in.

There's no doubt that in the history of African-American politics in this country, there has always been some tension between speaking in universal terms and speaking in very race-specific terms about the plight of the African-American community. By virtue of my background, you know, I am more likely to speak in universal terms.

INSKEEP: May I ready you another quote?

Sen. OBAMA: Please.

INSKEEP: This is from Peggy Noonan, the Republican speechwriter, talking about another path-breaking politician: John F. Kennedy. She said of Kennedy, when he became president: the good news was that the Irish-Catholics had arrived. The bad news was that he was a Protestant from Harvard.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: You're from Harvard.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Sen. OBAMA: Yeah. Well, the - you know, look, you know, identity politics in this country are always going to be complicated, and African-American politics in particular is weighted with extraordinary history - often painful and tragic history. And so I think my candidacy for the presidency is going to bring to the surface a whole bunch of stuff.

A lot of it won't necessarily have to do with me, but will have to do with the country being in a dialogue about where we are now, how far we've come and how far we have to go.

INSKEEP: Do you think that your life or your experience as an African-American would cause you as president to pursue any particular policy differently than if you had been white?

Sen. OBAMA: As president, or in my…

INSKEEP: As president. As president. Would you be a different president in some way, or whether there's something that you know that a white president would not know.

Sen. OBAMA: Well, I guess what I would say would be that there are certain instincts that I have that may be stronger because of my experience as an African-American. I don't think they're exclusive to African-Americans, but I think I maybe feel them more acutely.

I think I would be very interested in having a civil rights division that is serious about enforcing civil rights laws. I think that when it comes to an issue like education, for example, I feel great pain knowing that they are children in a lot of schools in America who are not getting anything close to the kind of education that will allow them to compete.

And I think a lot of candidates, Republican and Democrat, feel concern about that. But when I know that a lot of those kids will look just like my daughters, maybe it's harder for me to separate myself from their reality. Every time I see those kids, they feel like a part of me.

INSKEEP: Well, senator, thanks very much for your time.

Sen. OBAMA: Had a great time. Thank you.

INSKEEP: You can hear about Senator Barack Obama's campaign fundraising at npr.org. Now the candidate is often compared to a rock star, and as soon as he finished with us, the senator threw open his office door and said hello to an actual rock star. He welcomed the next visitor who'd been waiting to see him - the lead singer of U2, Bono.

(Soundbite of song, "Where the Streets Have No Name")

INSKEEP: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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