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Published: Thursday, 5/1/2008

Obama set to go on offensive in Indiana

BY TOM TROY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. - U.S. Sen. Barack Obama yesterday accused his opponents of using the radical views of his former pastor to raise doubts about his own character and values because they are losing the battle for ideas.

Mr. Obama tweaked his regular speech last night in front of about 13,000 people in the Indiana University-Bloomington Assembly Hall to argue that he is trying to overcome politics based on fear and polling.

In the last several days, Mr. Obama has angrily denounced his longtime former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, because of views he expressed in national television appearances such as suggesting the government might be responsible for the spread of AIDS among African-Americans and equating U.S. wartime efforts with terrorism.

"My opponents have been trying to make this election about me," Mr. Obama said.

He mimicked his critics: "•'We don't know him. We don't know if he shares our values. We haven't seen him wear a flag pin lately. He's got a funny name. His former pastor said some terrible thing.' That's the argument's that's being made because they can't win on the ideas, they can't win on the issues, so they want to make the election about my values, my ideas, my character."

Mr. Obama and his opponent for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sen. Hillary Clinton, are crisscrossing Indiana in search of votes for Tuesday's primary election.

Mr. Obama, of Illinois, is hoping his neighboring state advantage will put him definitively in the lead and persuade the remaining superdelegates to back him.

Polls show the two close in the race for Indiana's 72 delegates.

Last night's campaign event began with local congressman Rep. Baron Hill, a conservative so-called Blue Dog Democrat, announcing he would cast his superdelegate vote for Mr. Obama.

Chemistry student Ashley Kuntz, 27, said she came into the event leaning toward Senator Obama.

She said she saw Senator Clinton recently and was "not that impressed," and found that Mrs. Clinton "lacked charisma."

Still, she planned to vote for whoever the Democratic nominee turns out to be.

Ms. Kuntz said it's exciting that Indiana's primary may actually influence the selection of the nominee.

"It doesn't feel like we're as important as the other states in securing the nomination," Ms. Kuntz said.

Doris Parlette, 58, a child welfare administrator, said she likes Senator Obama because of his "thoughtfulness."

As an example, she cited his coolness to the idea of a summer gas tax holiday because it will drain the funds needed to maintain highways while making little difference to motorists.

Her companion at the rally, Tom Hinesley, 56, a public defender, also of Bloomington, said he believes Mr. Obama will win the election and end the contest.

"If he wins, this game is over because the superdelegates will feel free to come out in his direction," Mr. Hinesley said.

Both dismissed the Rev. Wright controversy as unimportant.

Russell Hanson, a political science professor at Indiana University, said Bloomington is a "liberal bastion" in the 9th congressional district.

He said the city in southwestern Indiana, about 270 miles from Toledo, has lost many of its manufacturing jobs to foreign countries.

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, Indiana has lost more than 102,000 manufacturing jobs since the passage of the North American Free Trade Act.

Contact Tom Troy at: tomtroy@theblade.com or 419-724-6058.



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