INDIANAPOLIS—In a question-and-answer session following his remarks about the gas tax holiday supported by Hillary Clinton and John McCain, Barack Obama acknowledged that the last week has been a bad one for his campaign, filled with what he said was “an awful lot of noise.”
When asked how upset he’d be if he lost in Indiana because of the controversy created by his former reverend, Jeremiah Wright, who he said he has not spoken with since the pastor’s poorly received media tour, he smiled and said, “I’m always mad when I lose.”
He seemed resigned to the damage done by the Wright story.
“We’ve had a rough couple of weeks, I won’t deny that,” Obama said when asked about how the controversy had hurt his chances in Indiana. He added, “I don’t think what happened with Reverend Wright was helpful,” that voters in the two states were “legitimately upset by it,” and that he didn’t doubt the controversy would be “factoring into the mix” of concerns weighed by voters.
“I have no doubt that these are going to be tight races—they have been tight throughout,” he added.
He talked a bit about tactics, suggesting that his campaign had miscalculated in going negative in the closing days of the Pennsylvania primary, but saying, “I don’t spend a lot of time anguishing and looking backward.” He said he didn’t know exactly how that “particular strategy,” influenced the results, but seemed to suggest that he would desist from character attacks for the remainder of the primary campaign.
“I always feel best about our campaign when we are making positive arguments about where we want to take the country,” he said.
Obama argued that the campaign had been “drawing sharp contrasts” since at least Iowa, but said that he didn’t think the back-and-forth helped him or his campaign.
When asked whether Clinton should drop out of the race if she doesn’t overcome the gap in delegates by June, when the primary contests will have concluded, he laughed and said that the press finds different ways of always asking the same question “over and over.”
“Look,” he said. “Senator Clinton will have to make her own decisions. She is behind in the delegate count. That’s not what we are spending a lot of time working on. What I want to do is make sure I’m finishing strong.”
“For the duration, I want to make sure that our closing argument” will be positive, he said. “If we do that over the next month, regardless of where the polls go, regardless of the outcomes of any particular contest, then I believe I will end up the nominee.”
He said another job he had, even after nearly 16 months of running for president, was to introduce himself to voters.
“You make an assumption that after running for president for 15 months” voters will know you, he said. “I think it’s really important for me to make sure that we are out there and that people have a chance to talk to me.”
Despite his complaints earlier this week that McCain and Clinton were focusing their attacks on his values, and not his policies, he allowed that it was a legitimate area of interest, and that he needed to assure voters that he shared their values.
“I think that it is very relevant for voters to figure out if this is somebody they can trust, somebody who is going to fight for them, somebody who cares about the same things they do. And what not only my words have shown but my actions have shown for the last 20 years is that my values and my ideals and my character are geared towards helping others. And particularly helping people who are struggling to live out their American dream.”
He said the characterization of him as out of touch were inaccurate, and called it one of the campaign’s great ironies that he and his wife, Michelle, were cast as “elitists, pointy-headed intellectual types.”
He was also asked at one point whether Oprah Winfrey’s absence from the campaign trail could have something to do with her own approval numbers taking a dip after she went on the road with him.
“You’re attributing that to me?” he asked, mock-incredulously.
“She’s got a lot of stuff going on, we’ve got a lot of stuff going on.”