Sen. Barack Obama says he is well-prepared to battle false smears and Republican attacks on his religion and patriotism, but various rumors have permeated so deeply into the electorate that they present a general election challenge for the likely Democratic presidential nominee.
From state to state, voters who support Mr. Obama’s rivals regularly cite information gleaned from e-mails that falsely claim that he is a Muslim or that he doesn’t respect the Pledge of Allegiance.
“His name scares me, his background scares me,” said Terri Knowles, a grandmother from Tippecanoe County, Ind. She voted for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton last week and said that if Mr. Obama wins the nomination, she will sit out the November election.
This week in West Virginia, the rumor mill was working at full tilt, flagging the work the Obama campaign faces to set the record straight before November and highlighting the hurdles of urban-myth attacks on candidates.
Mr. Obama — who is Christian and says the Pledge of Allegiance regularly — sometimes shrugs off questions about the rumors with jokes, but he increasingly has been forced to quash them outright. He said the e-mails have been “systematically fed into the bloodstream” before a state holds an election, indicating that “it is not just a random sort of viral thing.”
“This is a dirty trick that folks are playing on voters,” he said.
Missouri voters were receiving the e-mails before the Feb. 5 primary. One contained the false rumor about Mr. Obama’s faith and erroneously claimed he was not sworn into office on the Bible.
“Do you want this man leading our country?” the e-mail asks. “If you do not ever forward anything else, please forward this to all your contacts.”
In Pennsylvania, Republican Margaret Miller of Newmanstown told Mr. Obama in a diner that she “had to ask” about the rumor: “I’m going to ask you why you didn’t salute the flag.”
He explained, “We were singing the ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ and the flag wasn’t in front of me, the flag was behind me.” He added that he was looking at the singer and that he always honors the flag.
Earlier this month during a town hall at the fairgrounds in South Bend, Ind., a man asked the Democrat: “I’ve been reading on the Internet that you believe as an American we should not have to pledge allegiance to the flag. Is that true?”
Mr. Obama dismissed the e-mail as “a smear campaign that they’ve been running since the beginning of the campaign” and noted that he says the Pledge when presiding in the U.S. Senate.
“You can catch it on videotape,” he said. “I’ve been saying the Pledge since I was 3 years old. Don’t believe that stuff.”
Before closing his 50-second answer to a question that voters have had in each state, he chuckled and added a new line: “If you ever get these letters from Nigeria saying that they’ve got a lot of money for you, don’t give ‘em your bank account number.”
The answer earned him laughter, but it’s the people who don’t get a chance to hear his explanation that he will have to reach if he wants to win them over in a general election against presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain.View Entire Story
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