STEVE INSKEEP, host:
In this country, days before a primary, Indiana voters are talking about Barack Obama's former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Obama has criticized Wright for controversial remarks about race and about the 9/11 attacks, all of which come at an awkward time for the Democratic candidate.
From Hammond, Indiana, NPR's David Schaper reports.
(Soundbite of banging)
DAVID SCHAPER: After a long winter of lake effect snow, this is finally the time of year people can wheel their lawnmowers into Reliable Hardware in downtown Hammond, Indiana to be tuned up and fixed up for grass-cutting season.
Mr. CHARLIE GOLFA(ph) (Owner, Reliable Hardware): The talk of politics is a thing in the store here.
SCHAPER: Hardware store owner Charlie Golfa says a lot of people in this part of northwest Indiana are worried about the economy, from high gas prices to the loss of thousands of manufacturing jobs here. But he admits they're talking a lot about the inflammatory comments of Reverend Jeremiah Wright.
Sixty-four-year-old retired roofer Lloyd, the customer getting his lawnmower fixed, who didn't give his last name, says he thinks Wright is getting too much attention.
LLOYD: You know, that's all you hear. I want to hear about what's going to happen with gasoline. I don't want to hear what happened with Reverend Wright. He's a jerk.
SCHAPER: Lloyd says he thinks Obama should be the next president, but might not be now because of Wright.
Mr. LLOYD: I think he hurt him with the ranting and raving that he does. And anybody that associates himself with being a good friend with Farrakhan (makes sound) you know, he's a jerk too.
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SCHAPER: A few blocks away at Olympia Lanes in Hammond, the Wednesday senior citizen's bowling league is getting underway.
Mr. CHESTER LOBIDINSKI(ph): It's a good gathering. Nobody takes God's name in vain, everybody's competitive, and they enjoy each other.
SCHAPER: Chester Lobidinski, a retired steel worker from Crown Point, Indiana, says he's not happy all these skeletons are coming out of the closet in the presidential race, but he has no use for Reverend Wright.
Mr. LOBIDINSKI: If you can't say anything good about somebody, don't say anything at all. You know, this is America. Suppose they were in another country? How would they be treated if they spoke against something like that? You just don't run down America.
SCHAPER: Lobidinski says he's undecided about who to vote for, but the Reverend Wright controversy isn't helping Obama win him over. Carl Turner is a retired boilermaker from Hammond and a former local boilermakers union president who is supporting Clinton. He calls Reverend Wright a kook and holds Obama responsible for associating with him.
Mr. CARL TURNER: Why wait 20 years to distance yourself from somebody that has that kind of outlook on society, period? I say that he's setting in the pews of that church and listening to that crap for 20 years. So you know, somehow or another it had to sink in on him.
SCHAPER: John Blasko(ph), a retired steel worker from Whiting, Indiana, disagrees with that take on the Reverend Wright controversy's impact on Obama.
Mr. JOHN BLASKO: Yes, it's hurt him, but it has not hurt him with me.
SCHAPER: Blasko is a lifelong Republican who supports Obama. He says he evaluates the candidates' record, not where they go to church or what their pastor says. He says he doesn't think a person's place of worship or the failings of its clergy should be the last word about that person. The reason he believes this?
Mr. BLASKO: I'm a Catholic. Look at all the good press the Catholics have gotten - the Catholic priests - but that still hasn't dissuaded me from going to church and doing what I believe I should do.
SCHAPER: Blasko plans to stick with his candidate, but not all Indiana voters will be as willing to overlook the questions raised by Reverend Wright.
David Schaper, NPR News, in Hammond, Indiana.
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