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Obama Speaks Out Against Reverend Wright; John McCain Stays Away from Wright-Obama Controversy
Aired April 29, 2008 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Lou.
It was a stunning day on the campaign trail. Senator Barack Obama finally and very forcefully said, enough is enough.
It was a very sudden, bitter and very public divorce from his former pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. You're going to hear all of it coming up in just a moment.
But, first, as always, we begin with the "View From 30,000 Feet."
It's exactly one week until North Carolina and now neck-and-neck Indiana primaries. Obama spent his whole day in North Carolina. His extraordinary news conference came after his second stop in Winston- Salem. Hillary Clinton was in North Carolina this morning. Then she flew to Indiana.
Her last rally of the day will be starting any minute now. Bill Clinton has been dispatched to North Carolina. He made four stops today. And he's got seven tomorrow.
John McCain is campaigning, fund-raising and doing interviews down in Florida. In a little bit, I will get his reaction to the dramatic developments in the Reverend Wright controversy.
But you have got to see this first: Barack Obama's statement on Reverend Wright. We're playing it for you now. And it is absolutely riveting. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am outraged by the comments that were made and saddened over the spectacle that we saw yesterday.
I have been a member of Trinity United Church of Christ since 1992. I have known Reverend Wright for almost 20 years. The person I saw yesterday was not the person that I met 20 years ago.
His comments were not only divisive and destructive, but I believe that they end up giving comfort to those who prey on hate. And I believe that they do not portray accurately the perspective of the black church.
They certainly don't portray accurately my values and beliefs. And if Reverend Wright thinks that that's political posturing, as he put it, then he doesn't know me very well. And based on his remarks yesterday, well, I may not know him as well as I thought either.
Now, I have already denounced the comments that had appeared in these previous sermons. As I said, I had not heard them before. And I gave him the benefit of the doubt in my speech in Philadelphia, explaining that he has done enormous good in the church. He's built a wonderful congregation. The people at Trinity are wonderful people. And what attracted me has always been their ministry's reach beyond the church walls.
But, when he states and then amplifies such ridiculous propositions as the U.S. government somehow being involved in AIDS, when he suggests that Minister Farrakhan somehow represents one of the greatest voices of the 20th and 21st century, when he equates the United States' wartime efforts with terrorism, then there are no excuses.
They offend me. They rightly offend all Americans. And they should be denounced.
And that's what I'm doing, very clearly and unequivocally, here today.
Last point, I am particularly distressed that this has caused such a distraction from what this campaign should be about, which is the American people. Their situation is getting worse. And this campaign has never been about me. It's never been about Senator Clinton or John McCain. It's not about Reverend Wright.
People want some help in stabilizing their lives and securing a better future for themselves and their children. And that's what we should be talking about.
And the fact that Reverend Wright would think that, somehow, it was appropriate to command the stage for three or four consecutive days in the midst of this major debate is something that not only makes me angry, but also saddens me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: A stunning news conference.
And so the question is, now what happens?
CNN senior political correspondent Candy Crowley was there.
And, Candy, let me first ask you, that was pretty strong stuff today. And as I understand it, it was a pretty powerful moment in that room. Tell us about it.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It really was.
And it's interesting to watch this now on television. I was sitting in the front row while he was talking. And because he looked down when he's talking, looks at everybody who has asked the question, you can't tell really on TV what he's actually looking like. He was alternately really sad, particularly when he was asked the question, is your relationship with Reverend Wright now irrevocably damaged? And he thought about that. You could tell the sadness that was there.
But then, when he talked about Reverend Wright suggesting that he didn't mean what he said, when he condemned Wright, he was seething. Now, this is a guy that's very cool. And I think that's what you saw here. But there was definitely a Barack Obama I had not seen in this news conference.
BROWN: But, in terms of the politics, too, Candy, you can't ignore it. What kind of toll was this taking on the campaign?
CROWLEY: Well, it was taking some kind of toll. Otherwise, he wouldn't have done this. This is now since Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, the fifth straight day of Reverend Wright.
They would not have done this were it not hurting this campaign. Now, why now? Because, of course, he talked about it yesterday, and it looked like they wanted to kind of do one of these and move on. And he said, you know, Reverend Wright doesn't speak for me.
Why this huge change in tone? Obama says he actually then went home and saw -- or went to the hotel and saw what Reverend Wright had said and that he and his wife, Michelle, had decided that he needed to come out and do this.
But, politically speaking, they would not have done this had they not known that this was doing a great deal of damage, particularly at a time, because we have been talking about, that he's trying to appeal to white working-class voters, that being the demographic that they feel and a lot of people assume would be most offended by Reverend Wright.
BROWN: But, Candy, looking even longer term, I mean, Obama probably never wants to hear the name Jeremiah Wright again. But the issue is sure to come up again down the road, certainly if he's the nominee. Do they have a strategy for how to handle this later on?
CROWLEY: Well, I think you heard him in that news conference say, listen, going on down the road, he's going to come out again, I'm sure. And he's going to say things. So, here's what you need to know. He doesn't speak for me. I don't speak for him. I disagree with him. He's free to say whatever he wants, but I disagree.
So, they're hoping that, down the road -- this is a tried-and- true practice. You can say, listen, I have addressed this. I have done this already. We need to move on, as he's doing now. He says, listen, the saddest thing about this, he says, is that we're not talking about the issues that actually matter.
So, they're going to try starting tomorrow and through a general election if he's the nominee to move this forward and say, look, I have addressed that. You know how I feel.
BROWN: All right, Candy, stay with us.
But I do want our political panel to weigh in on whether this actually does stop the bleeding for Obama's campaign.
And here's part of why I ask. We're exactly one week out now from the Indiana primary and our latest polls poll shows it's a dead heat, 47 percent to 47 percent, with six percent unsure.
So, with us from Chicago, we have got CNN contributor Roland Martin. Joining us from Washington, our CNN political analyst Gloria Borger, and Tara Wall, former director of outreach communications for the Republican National Committee and currently deputy editorial page editor for "The Washington Times."
And, guys, you all watched this press conference, pretty extraordinary stuff. First impressions.
What stood out for you, Roland?
ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: The fact that Senator Barack Obama was very clear. He was indeed sad. But, right now, Reverend Wright is out of sight, out of mind.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think he's not giving Reverend Wright the benefit of the doubt anymore. We saw a lot of explaining at his last speech in Philadelphia. Today, there was just a lot of denouncing Reverend Wright.
BROWN: And, Tara, your perspective?
TARA WALL, DEPUTY EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR, "THE WASHINGTON TIMES": Yes, I think it was something that he certainly had to do.
I think that it was important that he pointed out that these are not his positions, his values, his beliefs. And I think, though, in the long run, there may still be some lingering questions about what he knew when, but it did go a long way in making sure he separated himself, his own beliefs, from those of Reverend Wright.
BROWN: OK, hold on, guys. A lot of people are saying Obama waited too long, way too long, frankly, to truly distance himself from Reverend Wright. What do you think? And how do we assess the damage?
All of that when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: What I do want him to be very clear about, as well as all of you and the American people, is that, when I say I find these comments appalling, I mean it. It contradicts everything that I am about and who I am.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: That was earlier today, Senator Barack Obama leaving no doubt about his out-and-out rejection of Reverend Jeremiah Wright. But should he have done it back in March when he gave his big speech on race?
I want our panel to weigh in on that now, CNN contributor Roland Martin, senior political analyst Gloria Borger, and Tara Wall of "The Washington Times."
Gloria, today, we heard a much more forceful tone from Senator Obama. It's taken a while. He could have done this in March. Why didn't he?
BORGER: Well, I think probably because of his past personal relationship with Reverend Wright, although he did go out of his way today, Campbell, to say, this man is not my spiritual mentor.
But I think he was giving the reverend sort of the benefit of the doubt. And I remember in Philadelphia he said, I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community.
But, clearly, when he took a look at what the Reverend Wright was saying, he saw this sort of breathtaking narcissism of this man. And he felt that it was very disrespectful not only to him, but to his campaign and the American people. And he said, you know what, this is it. This man was throwing a grenade at me, and I can't protect him anymore in any way, shape or form.
And he should have done it earlier. But on a personal level, I think it was very hard.
BROWN: Well, I would say -- I don't want to be too cynical about it. But you could also see that he had to have been assessing the damage.
And, Tara, assess the damage from your perspective. How bad is, with an eye now towards Indiana and North Carolina?
WALL: Listen, I think he underestimated what kind of impact this would actually have until they started looking at some of these poll numbers.
And coming out of Pennsylvania with the bitter comments, if you looked at the national polling, with that, it affected him. This Reverend Wright relationship affected him. Those numbers -- the "Newsweek" poll that was out showed about 40 percent of voters changed their opinion, their favorable ratings of him because of these remarks, because of the bitter remarks and Reverend Wright.
And, at the same time, I mean, he does still maintain support, the majority of support, you know, among Democrats, though the gap has, you know, closed between he and Hillary Clinton. He had a double-digit, you know, lead going into North Carolina, for example. He still does. But he had a double-digit lead coming out of Pennsylvania. Now it's narrowed to about seven percent advantage. Some polls actually have her ahead. So, it is impacting him.
I do think, though, that some folks don't necessarily equate him with Reverend Wright. Some of our writers that wrote in today letters to the editors, they are rightfully outraged with Reverend Wright, but they don't necessarily chalk that up to being the same beliefs as Senator Obama.
But it will haunt him come -- if we get closer to this nomination here and he is the nominee.
MARTIN: Hey, Campbell?
BROWN: Yes, go ahead, Roland.
MARTIN: Can I remind people of something? Do you know how many pundits were saying, wow, here was a guy who was respectful of his pastor, who didn't throw him under the bus?
I mean, I remember a lot of people on this network and others who were saying the exact same thing, maybe not folks...
BROWN: But, Roland, that was before these comments. That was before the comments he made yesterday.
MARTIN: Excuse me. I understand that.
But my point is, when we ask, well, why didn't he do it before or before the speech on race, that's why. People talked about respect.
The reality is this here. Reverend Wright crossed the line when he had the press conference yesterday. Had he just simply stuck with his Bill Moyers interview, it wasn't that bad. People saw a different light.
But what it pointed to was the fact that he was disrespectful to the senator yesterday in his comments. And, look, Obama didn't want to do it, but he had to do it. OK? He had no choice, because Wright chose to do this. He crossed the line. And people who know Wright, they also admitted it was a failure yesterday on his part. And that's why we're at this point we're at now.
BROWN: OK, guys, sorry -- sorry -- sorry to interrupt.
Roland, Gloria, Tara, we are going to get back to you in just a little bit. But, first, two rules of politics: All politics are local and people do vote with their pocketbooks. And that's why the price of gasoline at the pumps is another huge issue in this campaign.
And to show you where we are right now, we just wanted you to consider this for a minute. Six years ago, in 2002, the national average for a gallon of unleaded gas was $1.42. That's right, less than half of what we're paying right now. Well, by the spring of 2004, we had hit $2 a gallon. In 2006, a big jump -- it was the spring following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita along the Gulf Coast.
Then, just a year ago, gas was just over $3 a gallon. Today, we are closing in on $4 a gallon.
As for the politics of all of this, Senators McCain and Clinton are calling for a summer suspension of the 18 cents-a-gallon federal gas tax. Clinton says she would make it up with a windfall tax on the oil companies, which McCain opposes. Obama says none of this will work.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Let me tell you something. This is not an idea designed to get you through the summer. It is an idea designed to get them through an election.
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So, Senator Obama won't provide relief, while Senator McCain won't pay for it. And I'm the only candidate who will.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: Tomorrow, we're going to look at the truth of the matter. Can any of the presidential candidates actually bring down gas prices?
But next, Barack Obama's very public, very ugly break with his longtime pastor, a man who officiated at Obama's wedding and baptized his children. So, how is today's stunning decision playing with Obama's most reliable supporters, African-Americans?
BROWN: Today, in denouncing Reverend Wright, Senator Barack Obama said that their relationship has changed, that Wright is not the person he met two decades ago. The senator clearly felt betrayed.
So, what changed the terms of their endearment? And why did the Breakup take so long? We're going to get to that in just a moment.
But first, let's set up the discussion with some of Wright's much criticized comments of yesterday and how Obama described the betrayal that he's feeling today.
Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: At a certain point, if what somebody says contradicts what you believe so fundamentally, and then he questions whether or not you believe it in front of the National Press Club, then that's enough. That's a show of disrespect to me.
REV. JEREMIAH WRIGHT, BARACK OBAMA'S FORMER PASTOR: We both know that, if Senator Obama did not say what he said, he would never get elected. Politicians say what they say and do what they do based on electability, based on sound bites, based on polls.
OBAMA: And what I think particularly angered me was his suggestion, somehow, that my previous denunciation of his remarks was somehow political posturing. Anybody who knows me and anybody who knows what I'm about knows that I am about trying to bridge gaps and that I see the commonality in all people.
WRIGHT: Louis Farrakhan is not my enemy. He did not put me in chains. He did not put me in slavery. And he didn't make me this color. He is one of the most important voices in the 20th and 21st century.
OBAMA: And, so, when I start hearing comments about conspiracy theories and AIDS and suggestions that somehow Minister Farrakhan has been a great voice in the 20th century, then that goes directly at who I am and what I believe this country needs.
WRIGHT: As I said, this is not an attack on Jeremiah Wright. It has nothing to do with Senator Obama. It is an attack on the black church launched by people who know nothing about the African-American religious tradition.
And why am I speaking out now? In our community, we have something called playing the dozens. If you think I'm going to let you talk about my mama and her religious tradition, and my daddy and his religious tradition, and my grandma, you have got another think coming.
OBAMA: I did not -- I did not view the initial round of sound bites that triggered this controversy as an attack on the black church. I viewed it as a simplification of who he was, a caricature of who he was.
Yesterday, I think he caricatured himself.
WRIGHT: As I said to Barack Obama, my member -- I am a pastor, he's a member. I'm not a spiritual mentor, guru. I'm his pastor.
OBAMA: I do not see that relationship being the same after this.
Now, to some degree, I know that one thing that he said was true, that he was never my "spiritual adviser." He was never my spiritual mentor. But he was somebody who was my pastor, and he married Michelle and I, and baptized my children, and prayed with us when we announced this race, and so I'm disappointed.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BROWN: Some of the other words the senator used today: saddened, shocked, offended, and outraged -- pretty strong stuff after all these weeks of controversy.
Could this now be about damage control, though?
Let's bring back our panel, CNN contributor Roland Martin, CNN political analyst Gloria Borger, and Tara Wall of "The Washington Times."
Gloria, let's address some of the specifics of what we heard, first, Obama's reference to accusations of political posturing. I mean, there are certainly going to be those who say there was an element of political expediency to what he said today.
BORGER: Well, look, I think that Barack Obama has to get back on message.
As Candy was pointing out earlier in the show, this has taken him off message now since last Friday. There are precious few days before Indiana and North Carolina. And Barack Obama hasn't been talking about his campaign or what he would do for the voters in those states or how he would restore their jobs or help them pay for their gasoline or help them refinance their homes.
He's talking about Reverend Wright. And most of those folks don't like what they have seen of Reverend Wright. So, internally, I know from talking to people in that campaign, they are worried that they are seeing poll numbers in both of those states head in the wrong direction. And these are very important in the arguments they make to those superdelegates, because they have to say to those superdelegates, we're the candidate who can win in the fall. And this hurts those arguments.
BROWN: Roland, I want to get a little bit away from politics and ask you how this is playing out in the black community. There was discussion you saw back and forth between the two of them, not a discussion, but the back and forth over the black church.
BROWN: Both talking about the incredibly strong institution in black America, which is the church. How is it being received? I know it's a huge issue on talk radio. What are your listeners saying about it?
MARTIN: Oh, please, it's hot. We dealt with it for two hours today.
And I probably had half of my audience who said they liked what Reverend Wright said. The other half said he was absolutely hurting the Obama campaign.
But here is something that's very interesting, Campbell, that you're going to find, I think, beginning tomorrow with what Senator Barack Obama did. What is going to happen is, he -- the campaign asked Reverend Wright not to do any of these interviews. Wright chose to do so. This is Obama shoving him off the stage.
BROWN: They said yesterday that they didn't ask him to stay away from this.
MARTIN: Campbell, Campbell, Campbell, Campbell...
BROWN: They weren't telling the truth?
MARTIN: No, no, no, no, follow me. When I say Obama camp, that's also people who are supporting him, people who are at the church, who are close to Reverend Wright.
He was getting calls from people across the country, fellow ministers, saying, do not go to the National Press Club. As late as Friday, they were asking him, please cancel. He chose not to do so.
But what is interesting is, by him shoving Wright off the pages, if Wright chooses to come back on, Wright is going to face a backlash from black talk radio, from African-Americans who say, wait a minute, you know what, now you're really affecting his chances. And, so, Wright probably will want to sit back and not do anything, because he has had some support based upon what he said. He's going to have a backlash if he tries to come back on the stage.
WALL: Up until now, actually, black radio has been doing all they can to defend Reverend Wright up until -- I think Roland made great strides yesterday in his remarks in what he said about the actual speech at the National Press Club and how that changed the scope of everything. I would hope that black radio as a whole picks up on that as well.
Let me also add, though, there's a tinge of both here on the political side. There is true sadness and anger, I believe, on the part of Barack Obama. But there is some political expediency, because, number one, this whole issue about Louis Farrakhan, his has been out there for a while now.
The fact that Wright gave him -- a lifetime achievement award to Farrakhan, that's been out there. So, I think what Obama did not expect, though, is for Reverend Wright to go out here and essentially throw him under the bus and ignore everything he was doing or saying, and cause such divisiveness in the community among voters with his remarks, with his actions.
This is certainly something that the campaign did not want, did not foresee, and has had to respond. And that, I think, is why Senator Obama responded. Had Wright not said anything through the entire election, we probably would not be having this conversation, and I venture to say that Senator Obama would not have said anything more about Reverend Wright's remarks, which have remained the same up until now.
BROWN: All right, Gloria, Tara, thanks to you.
Roland, hang on. You're coming back with us.
BROWN: I know it had to be a gut-wrenching decision to denounce your pastor of 20 years. It seemed a long time in the coming, too.
In just a minute, we're going to explore the soul-searching that finally pushed Senator Obama to the brink and forced him to break with Reverend Wright -- that when we come back.
BROWN: It has been 43 days, as you can see there, since Barack Obama first attempted to dampen the whole Jeremiah Wright scandal with his race speech. In an election year, 43 days is a lifetime. And some say the fact that it took Obama so long to emphatically denounce his former pastor shows just how difficult this decision must have been for him.
Here's CNN's David Mattingly.
DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For Barack Obama, it was personal. He once said he could no more disown his pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, than he could disown his white grandmother. But today, it was as if Obama had been betrayed by an old friend.
OBAMA: He doesn't know me very well. And based on his remarks yesterday, well, I may not know him as well as I thought either.
MATTINGLY: It was like a very bitter and very public divorce. The words deeply wrenching. The man Obama had likened to an uncle, who married the Obamas, who baptized their two children, had become something much more than a political liability.
OBAMA: If what somebody says contradicts what you believe so fundamentally and then he questions whether or not you believe it in front of the National Press Club, then that's enough.
DAVID MENDELL, AUTHOR, "OBAMA: FROM PROMISE TO POWER": He can be a sensitive man. He's a guy with a conscience, and I think he feels genuinely badly about how this has all turned out.
MATTINGLY: David Mendell is the author of the book "Obama: From Promise to Power." He says this is a falling out that the Reverend Wright will be taking to heart as well.
MENDELL: There clearly was a great deal of affection that he had for the senator. He looked at him sort of, I think, as a godchild in a way, someone who he had helped get into the Christian faith.
MATTINGLY: The decision to denounce his former pastor could not have come easily. This was Obama just last month disagreeing and distancing himself from the controversial excerpts from Wright's sermons, but still speaking with affection.
OBAMA: As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding and baptized my children.
MATTINGLY: This is Obama now.
OBAMA: But he was somebody who was my pastor and married Michelle and I and baptized my children, and prayed with us at -- when we announced this race. And so -- so I'm disappointed.
MATTINGLY (on-camera): Obama says after his speech on race last month, he called and spoke with Wright on the phone and expressed his objections to his statements. He didn't share any details about that conversation. After all, it has been a very private anguish on a very public stage.
David Mattingly, CNN, Atlanta.
BROWN: So Barack Obama is again hoping to get what he calls the distraction of Jeremiah Wright behind him. But can he? We're going to have more on that in a moment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: When I say I find these comments appalling, I mean it. It contradicts everything that I'm about and who I am.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: It is unlikely that Barack Obama's decision to reject his former pastor will actually end the debate over Jeremiah Wright, and Obama's opponents are now running ads criticizing both men. So let's go back now to CNN contributor Roland Martin and senior political correspondent Candy Crowley who was at Obama's news conference today.
And Candy, I want to ask you, because you touched on this a little bit at the beginning of the show, how emotional he was at this news conference and what a struggle it seemed to have been for him to make this decision. Are they worried at all that Jeremiah Wright is going to remain a presence in the campaign and perhaps visibly out there, that this isn't the end of this?
CROWLEY: Well, you know, they know. And, in fact, Obama suggested that in fact he may be out there more. I mean, it was clearly something that they could not stop Jeremiah Wright from doing.
So, yes, they think he could be out there. They are hoping that having addressed this and said, listen, my relationship with him will never be the same. There has been major damage to it. I don't believe anything he says, you know, that sort of thing.
But I think this was a deeply personal assault on Obama. I think he took it personally, and I think you could see that, particularly the part -- I mean, remember, this is a man who is campaigning, is not just another politician. And then his friend of 20 years goes to the National Press Club and sort of says, well, you know, he just says that because he's a politician.
You know, intimating that somehow Obama shares his views. So this was -- this was a double, triple whammy for Obama and I think he took it really personally.
BROWN: Roland, do you agree with that? And how do you think that makes this even more difficult, I guess, in terms of how it plays out politically, given the personal connection that the two clearly had?
MARTIN: Absolutely. It was indeed very personal. But I think where it helps Obama is that he sent a signal today to his supporters, who also -- I think many who are supporting Reverend Wright as well. And that is, look, if this guy -- look, he's going to make some comments to the media. You know he's going to be out there.
In many ways, it also marginalizes Reverend Wright because Obama is saying, you know what, out of sight, out of mind. What he's going to say is I'm going to move forward. What he has to say is if you have any more questions about Reverend Wright, I've addressed it, I spoke to it. Any more questions, you need to go ask him. I'm trying to run for president. He's not.
He has to move forward. If he gets the nomination, he's got to go hard core going at those voters and say, you know what, Reverend Wright is not going to -- you know, voting against me is not going to save your house. It's not going to keep your job.
If white women are out there saying, hey, I will support Hillary Clinton. He's got to be able to say, you know what, the four conservatives on the Supreme Court, if you support John McCain, he's going to support three Supreme Court justices, Roe v. Wade, kiss it good-bye.
He has to use that type of challenge in terms of issues to get away from Reverend Wright and say look, he's out there but don't vote against your interests because you've got a problem with Reverend Wright.
BROWN: All right. Roland, Candy, we got to end it there. Thanks to both of you.
We'll put Senator Obama in our "War Room" and ask our strategists what he needs to do. Coming up next.
Also ahead, the latest on the search for survivors in Virginia after the devastating tornadoes. We'll be right back.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BROWN: You don't have to wait for tomorrow's edition of "The View" to get Joy Behar's take on Senator Obama and Reverend Wright. She's one of Larry King's guests tonight.
Who else is with you, Larry?
LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": Thank you, Campbell.
We will have Joy's thoughts on all of today's news and a panel of Obama's reaction to Wright today, including Reverend Al Sharpton. And we might have to guess what he has to say about all this. And we might be surprised.
That's all ahead. Oh, by the way, Campbell, Sidney Poitier Friday night.
BROWN: Look forward to that. Wow.
KING: Only waited 30 years for that.
KING: Yes, I'm not kidding.
BROWN: This is a big one. Good for you, Larry. All right. We'll look forward to that on Friday night.
KING: Thanks, Campbell.
BROWN: Still ahead, John McCain enters the ELECTION CENTER. I'm going to ask him about Senator Obama's stunning move to make a clean break with Reverend Wright.
First, though, Erica Hill with "The Briefing" -- Erica.
ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Campbell.
No new victims found in Virginia today after a search of tornado- damaged buildings. Six tornadoes hit the state yesterday, destroying more than 100 homes, injuring more than 200 people, six of them critically. No one was killed.
Al Franken's U.S. Senate campaign may be tripped up by the tax man. The comedian and Minnesota Democrat will pay about $70,000 in back taxes to 17 states where he earned money in the last five years.
And, boy, talk about luck here. David Johns (ph) was driving at a Boston highway when a 40-pound steel drive shaft crashed through his windshield, hit him in the forehead. It had fallen off a lumber truck. Doctors though say he's going to be all right. John says he plans to go to church on Sunday, Campbell.
BROWN: Much to be thankful for. Erica, thanks, appreciate it.
Later tonight, "AC 360" has a special "Keeping Them Honest" investigation into the enormous frustration and expense of rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina.
Check out what Randi Kaye just discovered.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We overestimated the damages to your house, and you owe us $13,000.
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What did you think when you saw the letter?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I went ballistic.
KAYE: Do you have $13,000 to pay back to ICF?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. We've spent that at least twice already.
KAYE (voice-over): Why did they want the money back? Turns out, the contractor hired by the state had doled out the cash. ICF International overestimated some damages and gave residents too much money. Now, it wants as much as $175 million back.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: That is on "AC 360" later tonight at 10:00 p.m. Eastern time.
Senator John McCain has generally shied away from commenting on the whole Obama-Wright issue. After all, the Democrats have done a pretty good job of chewing each other up. But tonight, McCain is talking to us about it. That's when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WRIGHT: As I said to Barack Obama, my member -- I'm a pastor, he's a member. I'm not a spiritual mentor, a guru. I'm his pastor. And 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: Remarks from Jeremiah Wright yesterday in Washington, remarks that Senator Barack Obama denounced this afternoon. For the most part, Senator John McCain has avoided talking about Reverend Wright. He even asked North Carolina Republicans not to run a TV ad this week criticizing Obama for his connections to Wright.
But McCain did say on Sunday that Wright's statements were a legitimate political issue.
Earlier, I asked McCain about these latest comments by Wright and Obama.
BROWN: Do you believe that Reverend Jeremiah Wright is a legitimate political issue in this campaign?
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe that that's a subject between Senator Obama and the American people. I have made it very clear that I don't believe that Reverend Wright reflects the views of Senator Obama, and I don't have anything more to say about it.
BROWN: But the bottom line here is that Senator Obama could be the nominee. You could be running against him in the fall. What's the take-away from this whole experience?
BROWN: So what does it tell Americans about Senator Obama and the kind of president he would be?
MCCAIN: I think that's a decision that the American people will make, and we will have a vigorous campaign if he's the nominee of the party. And I think the American people will judge us on our vision, on our record, but particularly how we're going to bring America through some very difficult times both domestically and national security-wise.
BROWN: You know, you were endorsed by Reverend John Hagee, a prominent evangelical minister who has made a number of anti-Catholic comments.
BROWN: And Hagee may not be your pastor but you saw it and you accepted his endorsement.
BROWN: So whether the relationship is a spiritual one, as in the case of Senator Obama and Reverend Wright, or a political one as apparently in this case, why should voters see a difference between the two?
MCCAIN: Well, I think the voters know that I attend North Phoenix Baptist Church. I have never attended Pastor Hagee's church. I have said that I accepted his endorsement. It does not mean that I endorse his views or his statements.
BROWN: Then why not repudiate his endorsement?
MCCAIN: I'm grateful for his commitment to the support of the state of Israel, and I'm very grateful for many of his commitments around the world, including to the independence and freedom of the state of Israel. And I can only say again to you that I received his endorsement. I didn't endorse him or his views, and I strongly repudiated any comments that had to do with being anti-Catholic.
BROWN: All right. Well, Senator McCain obviously doesn't want to touch the Reverend Wright mess. So how does Senator Obama keep his superdelegates from backing off, too? We're going to take that into the "War Room" when we come back.
BROWN: We head into the "War Room" now. And on the agenda tonight, Barack Obama's public divorce from his controversial former pastor. Although Senator John McCain speaking with me earlier deflected the issue, we do want to look at how it will affect the candidates as the primary season hurdles to the finish line.
So let's ask our party strategist. In Washington, Republican Kevin Madden. He is with us. He is the former communications director for Mitt Romney. And here with me in the studio is Democratic consultant Hank Sheinkopf.
Welcome to you, Hank.
HANK SHEINKOPF, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Thank you.
BROWN: And Kevin, we just heard from John McCain a moment ago. Pretty tight-lipped about Jeremiah Wright today but Republicans certainly have to see an opportunity here. If you are McCain's man in this campaign, how do you play this?
KEVIN MADDEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, look, there's an old saying in politics that if your opponent is about to commit suicide, whatever you do, do not murder him. So, you know, I think the Republicans right now have to just sit back and let Barack Obama and Jeremiah Wright be the story on its own. There's not a whole lot of need to put any fingerprints on this.
Just take a look -- as an example of that, take a look at what Hillary Clinton is doing. She hasn't touched this in two days because it's going to feed itself as a story.
BROWN: So Hank, on the Democratic side, superdelegates who, you know, really they're all that it's about at this point in time. They are certainly paying attention to this. Did Barack Obama, has he done it yet? Or what does he need to do to convince them that this issue has been contained? Obviously they're paying close attention?
SHEINKOPF: Superdelegates are paying close attention. They are the ones who everything depends on now. His job, calm them down. Come up with tangible solutions.
Get away from Reverend Wright as best as you can by saying look, as an answer, here's what I intend to do about the economy, here's what I intend to do about national defense, here's what I intend to do about Iraq. That's my plan. That's where I want to take the nation. Absent (ph) that, Reverend Wright remains in place. BROWN: Kevin, on the flip side, team Clinton had to be speed dialing superdelegates as the Wright story sort of mushroomed this week. If you're working for her, how do you convince the superdelegates that the Jeremiah Wright baggage makes Obama unelectable? What are you telling them right now?
MADDEN: Well, Hillary Clinton has to make sure that any effort that she makes on behalf of her campaign is subterranean. It doesn't have to be done publicly. She has to be working those phones, in the back rooms and calling as many superdelegates as she can, and pointing out the fact that these rural communities and a lot of these independent voters that are turned off by these statements by Reverend Wright are going to be crucial in these battleground states like Missouri, like Ohio, like Florida.
And that Barack Obama stands very little chance of being able to win those states in the general election. It has to stop those superdelegates in their tracks from going to Barack Obama's camp.
BROWN: But, Hank, does she risk overplaying her hand here? I mean, how does she sort of go about playing this up but without coming off like this political opportunist given what's going on?
SHEINKOPF: Something Kevin said very important. The states to be targeted -- Ohio, Michigan, Missouri and western Pennsylvania, more so than Florida, frankly, those are the place where the action is. That's where organized labor is. She has some support. Let them do the work and let her keep talking about issues direct and to the point.
Bottom line here is it's about toughness. She got off the ground. He's got to get off the ground.
BROWN: All right, Kevin and Hank, hold on. The latest polls have Hillary Clinton and Obama in a dead heat in Indiana. So what does either of them have to do to come away with a win? We're going to find out next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I want to make absolutely clear that I do not subscribe to the views that he expressed. I believe they are wrong. I think they are destructive. And to the extent that he continues to speak out, I do not expect those views to be attributed to me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: We are in our "War Room" talking about Senator Obama's very public split from the minister he had once cited as a mentor. So what should he be doing next politically? Let's ask our strategists, Democrat Hank Sheinkopf and Republican Kevin Madden.
Kevin, Peggy Noonan in "The Wall Street Journal" wrote that when it comes to Obama he needs an Act Two, that there's this general sense that his campaign have sort of stalled. And "The New York Times" wrote a piece earlier this week also that said -- it quoted a couple of his aides as saying that he seems bored with the primary race from where it is, you know, at this stage. So obviously, the last couple of days probably jazzed things up a bit for him. But if you're his message man, what is Obama's Act Two?
MADDEN: Well, I think Peggy Noonan made an even stronger point in that article where she said that Barack Obama has to essentially go out and answer the question for many Americans, what does America mean to me? What is America about?
And he's largely, you know -- this has largely been an introductory phase that he's gone through, and now it's his chance to seal the deal. I think that Hank may agree with me. He needs to go out there after rural voters in a place like Indiana, and he has to have a moment of strength.
Campaigns are often defined by those moments of strengths. It's the little big things. If he goes out there and engages with voters that are not atypical Barack Obama voters like rural white Catholics, for example, he could make a very strong impression on a lot of voters who are still making up their mind.
BROWN: Hank, you agree?
SHEINKOPF: More complicated than that. Watch the Fort Wayne Archdiocese, see what Catholic voters do in Indiana and elaborate (ph), a pretty good sense of what happens in the fall as well.
It's about Catholics. It's about working class men. It's about 500,000 people. That's what's going to decide it. The time is now.
BROWN: And in 10 seconds, what does his message need to be to those people?
SHEINKOPF: Here's my plan for America. You've heard the rest of it. I'm not him. I'm me, and here's what I intend to do.
Stand with me. We'll do it together.
BROWN: All right. Hank Sheinkopf with me here in New York and Kevin Madden, as always, thank you, guys. Appreciate it.
MADDEN: Great to be with you.
BROWN: We got to go.
"LARRY KING LIVE" is starting right now.