Portions of a video featuring Barack Obama speaking to a conference of black clergy in 2007, aired last night, injected the issue of race into the campaign on the eve of the president's first televised debate against challenger Mitt Romney.
In the June 2007 video, shown by Fox News, Obama faults President George W. Bush for not doing enough to calm racial tensions in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and calls his predecessor's administration "color blind in its incompetence." Obama, then a U.S. senator from Illinois, also refers to his relationship with his controversial former pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright Jr.
Parts of the speech have been online since 2007. The full video was promoted last night by Fox talk-show host Sean Hannity and the Daily Caller website, both Obama critics. The video was replayed as Obama leads Romney in most national polls and in surveys of voters in the 10 or so states that both campaigns are focused on as crucial to deciding the Nov. 6 election. Obama and Romney will debate in Denver at 9 p.m. Washington time.
Supporters of both campaigns have mined old recordings to tarnish their rivals. Mother Jones, the magazine that published a secretly recorded tape of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's May remarks to donors, released another video last month of Romney from 1985. In it, he characterized Bain Capital LLC, the Boston-based private-equity firm he co-founded, as a partnership created to invest in companies, help manage them and "harvest them at a significant profit." Approach Rejected Linking the first black U.S. president to Wright was a tactic rejected by Romney in May after Republican strategists proposed the idea.
The New York Times reported at the time that Republican strategist Fred Davis drafted the plan for a super-political action committee backed by billionaire Joe Ricketts, the founder of what is now TD Ameritrade Holding Corp., to run ads featuring Wright, whose racially incendiary sermons became an issue in the 2008 presidential campaign.
"I repudiate that effort," Romney told reporters May 17 in Jacksonville, Florida. "I hope that our campaigns can respectively be about the future and about issues and about a vision for America." Andrea Saul, a spokeswoman for the Romney campaign, said last night the campaign hadn't seen the video and "did not have any involvement" in its promotion.
Distraction The Obama campaign called it a "transparent" attempt to distract from the issues in the campaign.
"If the Romney campaign believes that Americans will accept these desperate attacks tomorrow night in place of specific plans for the middle class, it's they who are in for a surprise," Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said in an e- mail last night.
Hannity, on his program, said the video shows "some of the most divisive class warfare and racially charged rhetoric ever used by Barack Obama." Coverage of the June 2007 remarks that Obama delivered to 8,000 people at Hampton University in Virginia focused on his frank discussion of race.
Wright's Statements In an excerpt broadcast last night on Fox, Obama pays homage to Wright. "A special shout-out to my pastor the guy who puts up with me counsels me, listens to my wife complain about me," Obama said. "He's a friend and a great leader." Wright's statements, suggesting the U.S. brought the Sept. 11 attacks on itself and that the government had a role in spreading the AIDS virus in the black community, didn't draw public scrutiny until the 2008 campaign. In a March 2008 address in Philadelphia, Obama condemned remarks made by his pastor and said they presented a "profoundly distorted" view of the U.S.
Romney goes into tonight's debate trailing with 34 days until the election.
In an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll of 832 likely voters taken Sept. 26-30, Obama led 49 percent to 46 percent. Obama led 49 percent to 45 percent in a Quinnipiac University survey of 1,912 likely voters taken Sept. 25-30. Obama was ahead of Romney by 50 percent to 44 percent in the daily Gallup tracking poll for Sept. 25-Oct. 1, and the president led by 49 percent to 47 percent in an ABC News/Washington Post survey of likely voters conducted Sept. 26-29. Obama held a 49 percent to 43 percent advantage among likely voters in a Bloomberg National Poll conducted Sept. 21-24.