"Muslim" issue resurfaces for Obama
Former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey endorsed Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton for president Sunday but stirred a continuing controversy by noting...
COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa — Former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey endorsed Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton for president Sunday but stirred a continuing controversy by noting her chief rival's name is "Barack Hussein Obama" and that Obama had Muslim ancestors.
"It's probably not something that appeals to him, but I like the fact that his name is Barack Hussein Obama, and that his father was a Muslim and that his paternal grandmother is a Muslim," Kerrey, who made a failed bid for the Democratic presidential nomination won by Bill Clinton in 1992, told The Washington Post.
"There's a billion people on the planet that are Muslims, and I think that experience is a big deal," Kerrey said after the kickoff of a five-day tour of Iowa by Clinton. "He's got a whale of a lot more intellectual talent than I've got as well."
Kerrey had pondered a potential Obama endorsement before deciding on the New York Democrat. And while Kerrey's comments were ostensibly made as a compliment to Obama, they resurrected a troublesome issue for the first-term junior senator from Illinois.
Obama's attendance Sunday at the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Mason City, Iowa, was as much an observation of faith as it was a rejoinder to baseless e-mailed rumors that he is a Muslim and poses a threat to the security of the United States.
Obama did not address the rumors Sunday, but he described how he joined Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago two decades ago while working as a community organizer.
"What I found during the course of this work was, one, that ordinary people can do extraordinary things when they come together and find common ground," he told the congregation. "The other thing I discovered was that values of honesty, hard work, empathy, compassion were values that were spoken about in church. ... I realized that Scripture and the words of God fit into the values I was raised in."
Obama is known to invoke religious references in his campaign speeches and has said he has a "personal relationship" with Jesus Christ. He often has said that religion has a place in public life and that faith and politics are not exclusively the domain of conservatives.
Obama staffers and volunteers say they periodically encounter voters who say they cannot support Obama because they've heard he is Muslim, a claim that has been making its way through Internet sites and blogs since he announced his candidacy for president.
The issue gained prominence earlier this month when Clinton's campaign forced the resignation of two Iowa volunteer coordinators who had forwarded e-mails that falsely tried to tie him to Islamic jihadists.
Obama was born in Hawaii and moved to Indonesia at age 6 to live with his mother and stepfather, who was Muslim. He left Indonesia when he was 10 and returned to Hawaii to live with his mother's parents.
Obama often has mentioned at campaign appearances that he had relatives who have practiced Islam and that he has lived in a Muslim country as a way to promote a knowledge of foreign affairs and an ability to deal with Muslim nations.
Clinton's campaign, which had sought to highly publicize the pairing of Kerrey's endorsement with that of The Des Moines Register, Iowa's largest newspaper, had no comment on the former Nebraska senator's remarks.
Clinton celebrated the endorsements and touted herself as the Democrats' best agent for change.
"Well, some people believe you make change by demanding it. Some people make change by hoping for it," she said in a veiled reference to former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina and Obama. "I believe you make change by working hard for it."
Edwards, on the eve of finishing an eight-day bus tour, told an audience in Ames that his plans to rebuild the middle class would include creating a new consumer agency to crack down on predatory lending and credit-card abuses.
"Corporate greed and political calculation have taken over our government and sold out the middle class," Edwards said. "That is wrong. It doesn't say 'life, liberty and the pursuit of endless corporate profits' in the Declaration of Independence."
Iowa's first lady, Mari Culver, will announce today that she's endorsing Edwards' bid and will join him on the campaign trail.
"I know John and Elizabeth very well," Culver said Sunday. "I've known them for some years and he's really got a compelling life story." Culver's husband, Iowa Gov. Chet Culver, has made it clear that he will remain neutral.
With Iowa's caucuses on Jan. 3, Edwards is in a tight contest with Obama and Clinton. He is betting his campaign experience in the state and his emphasis on retail politics will pay dividends.
In a coffeehouse in Oskaloosa, Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware promoted his work as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and chided his opponents' lack of influence on the foreign stage and effectiveness in Washington.
"This isn't about change and experience," Biden told a group of about 50, noting the themes that have been adopted in the Democratic campaign. "This is about action."
Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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