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As Minister Repeats Comments, Obama Tries to Quiet Fray

In an appearance before the Washington media, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright said Monday that criticism surrounding his fiery sermons is an attack on the black church and rejected those who have labeled him unpatriotic. (April 28) Video by AP

At a hastily called news conference, Obama made clear his displeasure with his former pastor. "I think, certainly, what the last three days indicate is that we're not coordinating with him," Obama said, although he added: "He's obviously free to speak his mind."

"Reverend Wright is speaking for Reverend Wright," said David Axelrod, Obama's senior political adviser. "He's making his own decisions. He's not seeking guidance." Nor is the campaign happy with the results. Axelrod added: "I think it's pretty clear that Reverend Wright is not out there with the intent of helping Senator Obama. He's out there with his own program."

While Obama sought to tamp down the revived controversy, Wright, in turn, aired a note of displeasure with his former congregant. Obama delivered a speech on race in Philadelphia last month that denounced Wright's sharpest remarks and cast the preacher as an older black man whose views had not changed with the times.

"He had to distance himself, because he's a politician, from what the media was saying I had said, which was anti-American. He said I didn't offer any words of hope. How would he know? He never heard the rest of the sermon. You never heard it," Wright said.

He also joked that he was open to serving as Obama's vice president, and he noted that he would be knocking on the White House door if Obama were to win the general election. "I said to Barack Obama last year, 'If you get elected, November the 5th, I'm coming after you, because you'll be representing a government whose policies grind under people.' All right? It's about policy, not the American people."

Clinton passed on the chance to fan the Wright controversy, only reiterating during an appearance in North Carolina that if she were Obama, she would have left Trinity because of Wright's remarks. But she quickly pivoted to Republicans and an inflammatory ad the state GOP is airing that features Wright and attempts to link the state's two Democratic gubernatorial candidates, both of whom have endorsed Obama, to the pastor. "I regret the efforts by the Republicans to politicize this matter," Clinton said.

McCain has denounced the state party ad but has not shied away from addressing Obama's ties to Wright. Over the weekend, he acknowledged what he called the "anger" of some Americans about Wright's comments and called Obama "out of touch" with voters.

But he and his advisers also see risks in playing to racial passions. McCain has said he does not think Obama shares Wright's most controversial views, including his HIV theories and his defense of Farrakhan.

The Rev. Deborah F. Grant, a close friend of Wright's and the pastor of St. John African Methodist Episcopal Church in Columbus, Ga., said the scrutiny of Wright is unfair, because he is being examined through a political lens. "He has not been called to be a politician. He's been called to speak the gospel."

But even his allies wonder how long the controversy will linger. Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) said he watched Wright's NAACP speech twice and thought "he did a very good job of defining himself for anybody who didn't know what he is." On the other hand, Clyburn added, "if you're not interested, or you're looking for some peg, then it may not make any difference to you."

Slevin reported from North Carolina. Staff writers Eli Saslow and Michael D. Shear contributed to this report.

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