As Barack Obama sought to dampen the renewed controversy over his former pastor by announcing three superdelegate endorsements Wednesday, Democratic rival Hillary Rodham Clinton kept the issue alive, calling remarks by the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. "offensive and outrageous."
Appearing on Fox News' "The O'Reilly Factor," Clinton said she wouldn't have remained in a church with such divisive sermons. She added that it would be up to voters to decide whether the controversy would affect the presidential campaign.
Wright, in a nationally televised speech Monday at the National Press Club in Washington, repeated some of the incendiary comments from videotaped sermons that ignited the controversy in March. They included assertions that the U.S. government may have played a role in the spread of AIDS among African Americans and that the nation's foreign policy actions led to the Sept. 11 attacks.
Bill O'Reilly, host of the Fox News program on which Clinton appeared, asked the New York senator how she felt when she heard "a fellow American citizen say that kind of stuff about America."
"Well, I take offense," Clinton said. "I think it's offensive and outrageous."
But Clinton also said that she thought Obama "made his views clear, finally, that he disagreed, and I think that's what he had to do."
Clinton's comments came a day after Obama held a news conference to dissociate himself from Wright. The Illinois senator called his former pastor's National Press Club appearance a "spectacle," a "show of disrespect to me" and "an insult to what we've been trying to do" in his quest for the White House.
In Indianapolis on Wednesday, six days before the Indiana and North Carolina primaries, Wright came up in a voter's question at an Obama forum focusing on tax policies.
"What [Wright] said over the last few days and in some of the sermons that have been excerpted were unacceptable and weren't things that we believed in or cared about or cared to believe in," Obama replied. "What we want to do now, though, is to make sure that this doesn't continue to be a perpetual distraction."
As the uproar over Wright continued, three major national polls delivered mixed results for the two Democratic candidates.
Obama was the leader among Democrats nationally in the New York Times/CBS News poll, with a 46%-to-38% edge, and in an NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey, 46% to 43%. A Fox poll, however, showed Democrats preferring Clinton, 44% to 41%.
The polls also suggested that Democrats sense that Clinton is posing a growing challenge to Obama in the contest for the Democratic nomination. For instance, the New York Times/CBS News poll found that 51% of Democrats believe Obama will be their nominee, down from 69% a month earlier. That survey also found that in a head-to-head race between Obama and the presumptive Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain, both candidates are backed by 45% of registered voters, whereas Clinton has a 48%-to-43% edge over McCain.
Obama had the better day in the heated competition to win support from the Democratic leaders and elected officials who are superdelegates to the party's national convention in August.
His campaign announced three more superdelegate endorsements, while the Clinton camp announced two.
The role of superdelegates is expected to be pivotal because neither Obama nor Clinton appears able to seal the nomination solely by winning delegates in the states still holding contests. More than one-third of the nearly 800 superdelegates have yet to announce their choices, with many saying they are waiting until the last of the contests June 3. Although Clinton is ahead in superdelegates, Obama holds a lead of about 150 among overall delegates.
Among Obama's new superdelegates is Rep. Lois Capps of Santa Barbara. She cited Obama's domestic agenda and early opposition to the Iraq war as reasons for her decision, but suggested she was even more influenced by the tenor of the debate among the Democratic rivals for the presidency.
"Simply put, he has made a call to the better angels of our nature," Capps said in a prepared statement. "He is challenging us to lift ourselves out of the ugliness that increasingly consumes Washington, where the heat of your argument counts for more than the light it should bring."
Capps and her late husband, Walter, whom she succeeded in Congress, have had a long political affiliation with the Clintons. But Capps also has a family connection to the Obama campaign. Her daughter, former Clinton White House staffer Laura Burton Capps, is married to Obama spokesman Bill Burton.
Obama also picked up superdelegate endorsements Wednesday from Rep. Bruce Braley of Iowa, who had backed John Edwards when the former North Carolina senator was in the Democratic race, and from Rep. Baron Hill of Indiana.
Obama won nods earlier this week from Rep. Ben Chandler of Kentucky, Sen. Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico and Democratic National Committee member Richard Machacek of Iowa.
Clinton picked up superdelegate endorsements Wednesday from the Puerto Rico Democratic Committee vice chair, Luisette Cabanas, and Pennsylvania AFL-CIO President William M. George. Earlier in the week, she gained the backing of North Carolina Gov. Michael F. Easley, which also could help Clinton in Tuesday's primary in that state.
The Capps endorsement signaled yet another political figure with long ties to the Clintons moving to the Obama camp, following New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and fellow former Clinton Cabinet secretaries William M. Daley, Norman Y. Mineta, Federico Pena and Robert Reich.