Pa. Voters Reflect on Obama's Race Speech
Sen. Barack Obama's (D-IL) speech on race made the front page of newspapers across the country, including the Beaver County Times in western Pennsylvania.
The paper is on sale at George's Family Restaurant in the town of Aliquippa, located just outside of Pittsburgh, where the same voters who will help decide Pennsylvania's April 22 primary are busy discussing Obama's candidacy — and what he did and did not mention in his speech on race Tuesday in Philadelphia.
What originally led Obama to give his speech was the negative publicity surrounding the remarks of his former pastor in Chicago, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Among other statements, Wright told his parishioners that the United States brought on the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Jerry Holter, 68, is a retired public utilities manager who calls himself a conservative Democrat. Holter says he understands why Obama used the speech to condemn the words of his former pastor but not the pastor himself.
"He has a lot of history with that guy, and he probably has a lot of real good qualities. But when you take some of the things he is shouting about, it's not too good," he said.
Jim Deluca, 71, sits next to Holter. A former teacher who once played football at Penn State, Deluca says the videos of Obama's former pastor forced the candidate's hand.
"He [Obama] had to do something. He had to do something with Rev. Wright's publicity," he said.
One part of the speech that bothered Holter was when Obama noted that he had even heard racist language from his white grandmother as he was growing up, even though Obama stressed that he never doubted his grandmother's love.
"I don't know if I'd do that to my grandmother," Holster said. "I don't know if I'd say those things about my grandmother. I don't think he needed to do that."
Across the table, Bill Zorn, a retired steel worker, watches his friends go back-and-forth. Zorn is a registered Republican who says he, for one, was impressed.
"No one has ever gotten up there and given a speech like that on racism," he said. "What it accomplishes today you can't measure, but what I think is that some of these people are going to sit back and let them look at themselves."
One booth over, Pete Eritano, 69, a retired union official who says he is still undecided in the primary, offered more praise for Obama.
"I think he showed a lot of maturity in how he handled the situation — a very, very explosive situation to begin with — and I think he showed a lot of maturity. And that tells me he might be ready for the job," he said.
But that only prompted more caution from Deluca.
"Like I say, to hear him speak, sounds wonderful. But you don't know his background — and what's coming up is his background," he said.
Pennsylvania is typically seen as a stronghold for Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY). Polls show Obama running behind her in the state, though he still holds a sizeable delegate lead overall.
It had been anticipated that the economy and the war would be the dominant issues for discussion preceding Pennsylvania's primary. But following Tuesday's speech and the reaction at Georges Family Restaurant, look for the subject of race to take a prominent place at the table as well.
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