CBS’s Smith: Is Obama Campaign ‘Post-Wright’?

Still Shot of Harry Smith and Dean Reynolds, May 1 To its credit, the May 1 CBS "Early Show" continued coverage of the Jeremiah Wright controversy, although the co-hosts also hoped for an Obama comeback, as co-host Julie Chen wondered: "A new CBS poll shows Barack Obama has been hurt by the Reverend Wright controversy. Does he have time to recover?"

Correspondent Dean Reynolds's field report went on to flesh out worrisome poll numbers: "Our new CBS News poll had more troubling news for Obama. At the beginning of April, 69% of Democrats thought the Illinois Senator would be their nominee. Now, only 51% do. While those who think Clinton will be nominated has gone up by 13 points."

But Reynolds held out a ray of hope for Chen and co-anchor Harry Smith, as he observed that:

[T]he poll also shows a certain resilience to Obama's popularity. He's still the favorite choice for the nomination among Democrats, holding steady, while Clinton's popularity has declined. And Obama continues to pick up influential superdelegates. Today former Democratic National Committee Chairman Joe Andrew will be endorsing Obama. And that's particularly significant for two reasons. One, he's from Indiana and two, he was pledged to Hillary Clinton.

Following this report, co-host Harry Smith wondered if the controversy was over: "What is the mood of the campaign now? Do they feel like they've been able to move on? Are they post-Wright?"

After Reynolds' report, Smith talked to liberal pundit Roland Martin and conservative radio talk show host Michael Smerconish. Martin reassured Smith of voters continued support for Obama: "...people recognize that history could be made by Senator Obama becoming president. And they say, look, that's the most important thing to remember."

A concerned Smith wondered about the fate of the once "powerful" Obama campaign due to the "non-stop" coverage of Wright: "Do you have the sense, Roland, that Obama has lost the wind behind his sails? I mean, there was such -- so much power in this candidacy, and it has clearly been shaken from the last four or five weeks of just this non-stop playing of the Wright tapes and everything else." The "Early Show" was hardly responsible for any "non-stop playing of the Wright tapes."

Martin went on to offer some advice to the Obama campaign on how to hit back and Smith seemed to agree:

MARTIN: People want to see how is he going to fight back. And Harry, I think he should use the Reverend Wright situation. He should say 'look, the Reverend Wright deal, if you're going to vote based upon that. Guess what? That's not going to save your home. That's not going to get you a job. That's not going to lower gas prices. That will not get our troops home from Iraq. I say meet it head on and say that's the issue.

SMITH: I think maybe you just said it better than he said it so far.

Even Smerconish appeared to be sympathetic to Obama’s troubles: "What would cause -- what would possess Reverend Wright to re-emerge at this particular moment, inject himself into the fray, surely knowing that he's going to hurt the Obama campaign...And me, I'm sitting here saying it's just a sad story. It's a divorce of two old friends."

Smerconish also wondered if the controversy would create sympathy for Obama: "Listen, it may end up helping him. One of the net effects is it may help him because people are going to feel sorry for Senator Obama in all of this." Martin agreed: "good point."

Here is the full transcript of the segment:

7:00AM TEASER:

JULIE CHEN: Five days to go until two vital Democratic primaries. A new CBS poll shows Barack Obama has been hurt by the Reverend Wright controversy. Does he have time to recover?

7:02AM SEGMENT:

HARRY SMITH: In our top story this morning is the Democratic campaign. It moves on. Just days to go before this next Super Tuesday. In Indiana and North Carolina. Dean Reynolds is in Fort Wayne Indiana with more on what's going on. Good morning, Dean.

DEAN REYNOLDS: Good morning, Harry. Well, we have a new poll out today by CBS News, and there are some pretty disturbing numbers in there for Barack Obama, but he is still preferred among Democrats nationally to Hillary Clinton. On the one hand there was last night's rip roaring rally at Indiana University in Bloomington. The candidate basking in the applause of thousands of mostly young voters who are among his most ardent supporters.

BARACK OBAMA: And I need every Indiana student to vote for me.

REYNOLDS: But on the other was the meeting Wednesday in Indianapolis where one of the first questions he fielded from the audience dealt with the Wright mess.

OBAMA: You know, what we want to do now, though, is to make sure that this doesn't continue to be a perpetual distraction.

REYNOLDS: But so broad is this issue that Hillary Clinton was taking questions about Wright's views, too. Last night from Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly.

BILL O'REILLY: What do you think when you hear a fellow American citizen say that stuff about America? What do you think?

HILLARY CLINTON: Well, I take offense at it. I think It's offensive and outrageous. And, you know, I'm going to express my opinion, others can express theirs. But what people are talking to me about is not that. I got to tell you. What I hear is what's happening in their lives.

O'REILLY: No, I know that.

CLINTON: Let somebody else worry about, you know, taking on whatever someone said.

REYNOLDS: Our new CBS News poll had more troubling news for Obama. At the beginning of April, 69% of Democrats thought the Illinois Senator would be their nominee. Now, only 51% do. While those who think Clinton will be nominated has gone up by 13 points. But the poll also shows a certain resilience to Obama's popularity. He's still the favorite choice for the nomination among Democrats, holding steady, while Clinton's popularity has declined. And Obama continues to pick up influential superdelegates. Today former Democratic National Committee Chairman Joe Andrew will be endorsing Obama. And that's particularly significant for two reasons. One, he's from Indiana and two, he was pledged to Hillary Clinton. Harry.

SMITH: Dean, let me ask you this. You've been following this Obama campaign for all these many, many months now. What is the mood of the campaign now? Do they feel like they've been able to move on? Are they post-Wright?

REYNOLDS: They certainly hope they are. But, of course, that depends on whether Senator Obama continues to field questions at these town hall meetings all over the country from average voters like he did yesterday. It's out there. They don't have any control over the reaction, but they're hoping that they can move on. Harry.

SMITH: Alright. Dean Reynolds live with us in Fort Wayne, Indiana this morning. As we continue this morning on this conversation, we are joined by radio host and CNN contributor Roland Martin and from Philadelphia radio host Michael Smerconish. Good morning, gentlemen. Alright. We're going to see if we -- who are we connected to? Michael, can you hear me?

ROLAND MARTIN: Harry, I can hear you. It's Roland Martin.

SMITH: : Alright. Thanks. Hey, Roland, what is the response of your listeners to what has transpired in the Obama campaign over these last, say, four or five days?

MARTIN: Yes, the question is what is the response from the listeners? Look, it's really been half and half ---

SMITH: Yes, yes.

MARTIN: It's very -- it's very interesting, Harry, prior to, you know, the news conference on Monday, folks said they felt that Reverend Wright should be speaking out. When Obama came out on Tuesday, it was very interesting. People say that they felt that Wright did indeed cross the line. And it's one of -- it's one of those things, that look, we're in Chicago, a lot of people go to Trinity United Church of Christ, listen to us, and the problem is here you have a member of the church and former senior pastor of the church both sort of, you know, in this whole issue, it's very difficult for church members. But again, people recognize that history could be made by Senator Obama becoming president. And they say, look, that's the most important thing to remember.

SMITH: Do you have the sense, Roland, that Obama has lost the wind behind his sails? I mean, there was such -- so much power in this candidacy, and it has clearly been shaken from the last four or five weeks of just this nonstop playing of the Wright tapes and everything else.

MARTIN: Well, I think you have the Wright tape, the whole issue of the bitter comments, the whole issue of guns and religion. There is no doubt. But you know what Harry, I think about a song by Donnie McClurkin called "We Fall Down." And in that song it says "We fall down but we keep getting up."

SMITH: Got to get up again.

MARTIN: And look, this is a serious -- right -- this is a serious test. And so the question is how is he able to weather this storm? Look, Joe Andrew, former head of the DNC, he came out today. He's going to be -- he is switching from Clinton to Obama. So what Obama has to do is weather the storm. People want to see how is he going to fight back. And Harry, I think he should use the Reverend Wright situation. He should say 'look, the Reverend Wright deal, if you're going to vote based upon that. Guess what? That's not going to save your home. That's not going to get you a job. That's not going to lower gas prices. That will not get our troops home from Iraq. I say meet it head on and say that's the issue.

SMITH: I think maybe you just said it better than he said it so far. Let me go to Michael Smerconish in Philadelphia. What are -- what are folks saying on your show?

MICHAEL SMERCONISH: Very interesting, Harry. Not only do I host the program here in Philadelphia, but yesterday I guest hosted Bill O'Reilly's radio show nationally. And both audiences are openly speculating why. What would cause -- what would possess Reverend Wright to re-emerge at this particular moment, inject himself into the fray, surely knowing that he's going to hurt the Obama campaign. Some of the callers speculate that it's deliberate on the part of Senator Obama to provide him with an opportunity, an avenue to finally cut that tie. Others always want to see the hand of the Clintons in this. And me, I'm sitting here saying it's just a sad story. It's a divorce of two old friends.

MARTIN: Well, I can tell you this, Michael. The whole issue of that Obama put him up to it, trust me, the Obama folks and even his supporters, they were meeting with Reverend Wright saying, 'look, do not do this. Do not do it.' A lot of people close to him said 'do not hold that press conference.' And so, if people think that, trust me, that's the last thing they wanted.

SMITH: Alright, there we go. Gentlemen thank you so much --

SMERCONISH: Listen, it may end up helping him. One of the net effects is it may help him because people are going to feel sorry for Senator Obama in all of this.

MARTIN: Good point.

SMITH: We shall see. Michael Smerconish, thank you so much. Roland, thank you very much, sir. Do appreciate it.

MARTIN: Thanks Harry.

SMITH: That's it on this subject for the moment.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC