Another Pastor Problem? Barack Obama's standing has slipped in North Carolina and Indiana in the wake of comments by former pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Meanwhile links between John McCain and right-wing evangelist John Hagee emerge.

Another Pastor Problem?

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North Carolina also holds its primaries tomorrow. For more on that and the latest in politics we are joined by NPR's Senior Washington Editor, Ron Elving. Hi Ron.

RON ELVING: Good to be with you, Alex.

COHEN: Ron, North Carolina's proving to be a bit more of a challenge for Senator Obama's campaign than originally expected. What's going on there?

ELVING: His lead in the state, Alex, is down from double digits to single digits. And seems to have been dwindling in recent days. And he has been suffering there, much as he has been elsewhere, from the big distraction in the media over the Jeremiah Wright controversy. At the same time, Hillary Clinton has been making a strong appeal to working-class voters. And remember that the state population in North Carolina, while it is more than 20 percent African-American, and while those voters are concentrated in the Democratic party, they're not a majority of the Democratic party.

COHEN: You mentioned the media and the Jeremiah Wright controversy. There was a Frank Rich column in the New York Times over the weekend that argued Senator John McCain hasn't been scrutinized over his endorsement by another controversial religious leader, John Hagee, nearly as much as Obama has been about his connection to Pastor Wright. Is there a disparity there?

ELVING: There seems to have been a huge disparity, actually, and also a lot of reasons for it. First of all, I haven't seen any video yet, and maybe it's still going to emerge, of John Hagee saying some of the crazy stuff that he has been quoted as saying, like, for example, blaming gay people in New Orleans for Hurricane Katrina. So we don't have all of that material to deal with on television played over and over. Just as important, his relationship to John McCain is really rather limited. McCain asked for his endorsement this year and he got it. And he probably now regrets it, but it's not like the guy was his personal minister for 20 years.

COHEN: Now let's move on to the gas tax. There's that poll out today from CBS News and the New York Times. It shows only 20 percent of those surveyed say they think it will actually provide some relief to Americans. Seventy percent say these gas tax proposals are just a way to help out the candidates politically. So, how will all this gas tax talk play out in these contests tomorrow?

ELVING: It's entirely a political gesture. It's a way of saying we feel your pain, and we care. And we think the government is partially at fault for this. And it's also a wonderful way of isolating Barack Obama as some kind of an elitist who cares only about what experts say, or what economists say, because he opposes getting rid of this for a few months, this eighteen cents. And he actually sets out these figures for how little it would save people. So, some people are going to see this, perhaps, as exploiting the legitimate anger at gas prices in a manipulative way. And if so, there could be a backlash benefit for Obama.

COHEN: Ron, with these contests tomorrow, what are you keeping an eye on?

ELVING: Everyone expects that Hillary Clinton will win Indiana, and that Barack Obama will win North Carolina. If there's any change in that, if one or the other should win both, or if they should flip which state they win, that's going to require a lot of analysis since it's going to have a lot more of an effect. Apart from that, people will just be looking at the margins, seeing whether or not the one win in Indiana, say, for Clinton is big enough to be a surprise. Or whether or not the margin in North Carolina is so small for Obama it is going to be a major discouragement.

COHEN: NPR Senior Washington Editor Ron Elving. Thanks, Ron.

ELVING: My pleasure, Alex.

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