- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. was supposed to be a problem for Democrats, but Sen. John McCain has now made it his own dilemma by clashing with Republicans who say Sen. Barack Obama’s former pastor is fair game.

The spat between the presumptive Republican presidential nominee and a state Republican Party branch has also called into question the senator’s status as the de facto leader of his party.

Mr. McCain has grown increasingly infuriated by the North Carolina Republican Party’s decision to run a television ad next week in advance of the state’s May 6 primary calling Mr. Obama “too extreme” because of his connection to Mr. Wright. The ad includes a clip of one of Mr. Wright’s sermons in which he calls on God to condemn America.

Yesterday, after his campaign spent two days trying to persuade the state party’s chairman to cancel the ad, Mr. McCain’s anger boiled over.

“The Republican Party of the state of North Carolina is dead wrong,” he said on CBS’ “The Early Show.” “I’ll do everything in my power to make sure not only they stop it, but that kind of leadership is rejected.”

He railed about the decision again on NBC’s “Today” program. “They’re not listening to me because they’re out of touch with reality and the Republican Party,” he said. “This kind of campaigning is unacceptable. I have said that. It will harm the Republicans’ cause.”

Video: Rev. Wright says sermon controversies are unfair

Photos: This week on the campaign trail

For the past two days, the McCain campaign and Republican National Committee Chairman Mike Duncan sought to convince the state party that it should not run the ad, which links Mr. Wright to two North Carolina Democratic gubernatorial candidates who have endorsed Mr. Obama.

“We are going to run the ad. There has never been a question in my mind,” said Linda Daves, chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party.

“When I’m working on his campaign — I’m going to work very hard for him — we will work for his campaign the way he wants,” she said. But she said she is running the ad because of the state’s gubernatorial race, and doesn’t need approval from Mr. McCain.

McCain adviser Charlie Black had said earlier this week he thought the ad was going to be pulled, and was not amused at the dust-up.

“It’s curious to me how Senator Obama and Pastor Wright are essential to fight the Democratic candidate for governor of North Carolina. I’ve been in politics for 35 years,” he said, his voice rising, “and I’ve never seen such a scenario that a negative attack on a Democratic presidential candidate was going to help beat the Democratic gubernatorial candidate.”

Still, Mr. Black said the publicity about it has made clear Mr. McCain’s position: “Nobody’s going to mistake it for an ad that we endorse.”

But some conservatives were angered at Mr. McCain’s demand.

“McCain should stay out of it,” Bobby Eberle, president of GOPUSA, a Web site and e-mail newsletter to grass-roots conservatives. “Guilt by association is not only a valid campaign tactic, but it is also a necessary ingredient to getting to know a candidate, especially when the media will not dig into Obama’s background.”

Yesterday, Mr. McCain faced questions about his clout during his early-morning appearances. Asked if the flap meant he couldn’t control his own party, the senator said: “I don’t know exactly how to respond to that.”

Democrats ridiculed Mr. McCain’s assertion that he was working hard to kill the ad.

“So far, McCain’s idea of doing ‘everything I can’ includes just one thing: sending the state party chair an e-mail,” the Democratic National Committee said in a statement.

“Here’s some straight talk: instead of sending e-mails, Senator McCain could take real action to show he’s serious by firing the state party chair from her position with the Republican National Convention and kicking the Republican Party leaders who helped fund this ad off his campaign steering committees,” said DNC spokesman Karen Finney.

The Wright issue also remains a headache for Mr. Obama, who was forced again yesterday to reject the controversial sermons after the pastor spoke to PBS about his relationship with the senator. He said he felt the sermons were taken out of context for “devious reasons.”

“The blowing up of sermons preached 15, seven, six years ago and now becoming a media event, not the full sermon, but the snippets from the sermon … having made me the target of hatred, yes, that is something very new,” Mr. Wright told Bill Moyers. “I felt it was unfair. I felt it was unjust. I felt it was untrue.”

Mr. Obama responded to the remarks yesterday, telling reporters he understands why voters were offended by Mr. Wright and repeating his denunciation of the sermons.

“I understand that he might not agree with me on my assessment of his comments,” he said. “He is obviously free to express his opinion. I’ve expressed mine very clearly. I think what he said on several instances was objectionable.”

Mr. Wright is also scheduled to speak to the NAACP in Detroit tomorrow and at the National Press Club on Monday.

When asked about his former pastor, Mr. Obama wins applause from supporters when he turns the issue around, using it to illustrate his campaign theme that he’s running against Washington insiders who judge by sound bites and avoid talking about the issues that matter.

But Mr. Wright’s interview might have punched holes in Mr. Obama’s argument.

“He’s a politician, I’m a pastor,” Mr. Wright said. “We speak to two different audiences. And he says what he has to say as a politician. I say what I have to say as a pastor. But they’re two different worlds.

“I do what I do. He does what politicians do.”

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