Obama calls on churchgoers to help

July 5, 2008 7:51:29 PM PDT
Barack Obama, continuing with his theme this week of highlighting his faith and patriotism while visiting traditionally Republican states, called on a nearly all-black room of churchgoers in Missouri to help fix national and local problems. Speaking at a national meeting of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in St. Louis, one of the nation's largest and most politically and civically active black denominations, Obama said the government had an obligation to address what he said are "moral problems," such as war, poverty and homelessness, and work with religious institutions to solve them.

Obama repeatedly referenced his religious faith in terms that would be familiar to white evangelicals as well as his black audience.

He hopes to draw more support from evangelical Christian voters than is typical for Democratic presidential candidates, although analysts are skeptical about whether that is possible considering his support for abortion, gay rights and other issues.

The Illinois senator has visited a number of states this week including Missouri, Montana, and North Dakota, that have tended to vote Republican but where he thinks he can make inroads with voters.

Next week he'll be in North Carolina, Georgia and Virginia, all Southern states that have been the province of Republicans but where his campaign thinks he might find election success in part because of their large black populations.

During the Missouri stop Obama, who has made history by becoming the first black major-party presidential nominee, made frequent references to the civil rights movement and continuing struggles in the black community.

Acknowledging that he might be criticized for "blaming the victim" Obama also preached individual responsibility, by talking of the need for parents to help children with homework and turn off the TV, to pass on a healthy self-image to daughters, and teach boys to respect women.

His Republican rival, John McCain, who was taking a break from campaigning during the long U.S. Independence Day holiday weekend, got some support from a national veterans group.

Vets for Freedom is spending $1.5 million on television ads that will begin running in July, praising the troop buildup, Pete Hegseth, the 25,000-member group's chairman, said in a telephone interview Saturday.

The ads will feature veterans talking about the accomplishments they've seen since the buildup, which McCain has strongly supported, began in early 2007.

"We need to finish the job no matter who is president," the ads say, according to Hegseth.

Though more recently overshadowed by voters' concerns about the sputtering U.S. economy, the Iraq conflict has emerged as a key difference between Obama and Republican rival John McCain. Obama has called the war a mistake and McCain has strongly supported keeping troops in the country.

The Democrat's stance on the Iraq war took center stage in the campaign on Thursday after he indicated that his talks with military commanders during an upcoming visit to Iraq could refine his policies with regard to the 16-month timetable he's discussed for withdrawing combat troops from Iraq.

His remarks quickly drew criticism from Republicans and others that he was backtracking on his commitment to end the war.

In two news conferences on Thursday, Obama said any refinement of his position on Iraq wouldn't be related to his promise to remove combat forces within 16 months of taking office, but rather to the number of troops needed to train Iraqis and fight al-Qaida. But he also acknowledged that the 16-month timeline could indeed slip if removing troops risked their safety or Iraqi stability.

Obama told reporters Saturday that he is "absolutely committed to ending the war."

He said he did not misspeak in his comments earlier in the week and suggested the media and critics read unintended significance into the remarks.

"I was a little puzzled by the frenzy that I set off by what I thought was a pretty innocuous statement," he told reporters.

Obama has always said his promise to end the war would require consultations with military commanders and, possibly, flexibility.

McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds said Obama needs to "understand that his words matter."

"We are all absolutely committed to ending this war, but on Thursday Barack Obama's words indicated that he also shared John McCain's commitment to securing the peace beforehand," he said.

The Illinois senator also said he and former rival Hillary Rodham Clinton plan to raise money together next week in a series of fundraisers in New York.

Before leaving Montana, Obama took a swipe at Republican rival John McCain while speaking via satellite to a conference of the National Education Association, the largest teachers union.

Of McCain, Obama said for "someone who has been in Washington for 30 years, he's got a pretty slim record on education and when he has taken a stand it has been the wrong one." He said McCain had voted against such popular proposals as increasing funding for higher education scholarship and hiring 100,000 new teachers.

McCain spokesman responded in a statement: "Barack Obama has never spearheaded education reforms while in the U.S. Senate and has no record of working across the aisle for change."