- The Washington Times - Friday, April 25, 2008

Some Democrats say they doubt the current media blitz by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Sen. Barack Obama’s former pastor, took his campaign by surprise.

“People close to the Obama campaign said to Wright you have to go clean up this mess,” said veteran Democratic campaign consultant Tom Havrilek, who has daily contact with Obama campaign representatives. “It probably came from folks in Illinois — from outrage from local and state supporters. That’s my best guess as to why Wright is doing this now.”

Mr. Wright, whose sermons criticizing the U.S. and calling for God’s condemnation of America made news last month, is on a tour explaining himself. An interview with PBS’s Bill Moyers airs tonight, on Sunday he speaks to the Detroit NAACP, and on Monday he speaks at the National Press Club.

Many pundits say the timing couldn’t be worse for Mr. Obama, who has had to distance himself from his 20-year relationship with Mr. Wright.

“This is the first time in American history that an African-American has a serious chance of ascending to the presidency, the highest office in the land,” said former Bill Clinton adviser David Gergen said on CNN. “And Reverend Wright has just made this climb a lot steeper.”

Mr. Gergen said Mr. Obama “needed to get back on message and have the Wright story die and go away” and Mr. Wright’s choosing to go on television … is fanning those flames once again, putting his story right back up front. That does Barack Obama no favors”

But some Democrats say the rekindled attention is an effort to attract attention to Mr. Wright’s controversial sermons now so that voters will have tired by it later, when the opposition raises the Wright issue in the general election.

Washington lawyer and former South Carolina Rep. Butler Derrick said Mr. Wright himself doesn’t benefit by speaking out now.

“What did Wright have to gain. One last hurrah? If he and Obama were as close as we were lead to believe, then why would he want to do him any damage?” Mr. Derrick said.

“If they didn’t know it was coming, they should have known and it doesn’t speak well for the Obama people,” he said.

Mr. Obama’s past association with Mr. Wright may prove to be more of a problem than polls seem to indicate now, but Mr. Obama clearly has a bigger hurdle in the form of a Democratic nomination contest with Hillary Clinton that won’t quit.

“Every day this Democratic nomination campaign continues, John McCain gets a year younger,” said Mr. Havrilek. “What has taken place in the last two weeks probably has cost the Democrats the White house.”

Mr. Havrilek, a Kentucky Democrat, says Mr. Obama’s campaign has shown signs arrogance born of overconfidence, sending to the state a young coordinator from New York City to address a local Democratic association dinner.

Democrats in Kentucky as elsewhere in the South tend to be conservative and vote Republican in national elections but this time, with an attractive black candidate heading the national ticket with their eagerness for “true change,” they appeared ready to vote for a fellow Democrat, Mr. Havrilek said.

But the national Democratic party’s cultural separation from middle class Americans is becoming all too apparent once again, Mr. Havrilek said.

“I had hoped the true colors of Democrats wouldn’t come out but white middle class are saying maybe the Democrats haven’t changed at all,” he said. “People here are going to vote their religion and their values and they don’t care if they have to pay $10 a gallon for gas if that’s what it means.”

Nor is Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton the answer, he said.

For grass roots Democrats, independents and even some Republicans, “Bill Clinton was likable,” he said. “She is not.”

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