Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama defended questions about his patriotism and reiterated his call for unity in the US state of North Carolina Monday night amid the re-emergence of his controversial former pastor Jeremiah Wright Jr., dpa reported
Locked in a neck-and-neck battle for the party nomination with Hillary Clinton, Obama attacked his opponents for focusing on trivial issues that have "dominated political coverage over the past several weeks," but admitted he too had been occasionally "goaded" into running a negative campaign.
"When you start bickering, when you start arguing ... you forget about what the campaign's really about," said Obama, speaking to thousands at a rally at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. "This campaign is about you. It's about your struggles, it's about your dreams."
After Clinton's victory in Pennsylvania last week, North Carolina will next choose its preferred Democratic nominee on May 6 along with Indiana.
Obama is expected to do well in the southern state, which has a significant population of African-American voters and is the largest left in the primary race.
Obama largely ignored Reverend Wright, who has broken his silence this past week for the first time since a scandal emerged in early March over his racially inflammatory comments in sermons, nearly derailing Obama's campaign.
Speaking at the National Press Club in Washington Monday, the former pastor of Obama's Chicago church attacked the media for running a series of sound-bites out of context, but Wright did not back away from his most controversial comments.
"You can't do terrorism on other people and expect it not to come back on you," Wright said, responding to a question over his remark that the United States had brought the September 11 attacks on itself.
"He does not speak for me. He does not speak for the campaign," Obama said in a brief response to reporters at an airport tarmac in North Carolina.
Wright presided over Obama's wedding and baptized his two children, but Obama has distanced himself from the pastor since the controversy emerged, calling Wright's remarks "extremely offensive."
In his rallies Monday, Obama did not mention Wright directly but criticized the tone of the campaign and rejected suggestions that he was unpatriotic.
Obama faced direct questions over his patriotism in a television debate shortly before the Pennsylvania primary on April 22. He was queried over why he did not wear a flag pin.
Obama citied his own family history of being raised by a single mother and grandparents in Hawaii.
His father, from Kenya, left the family when Obama was two years old.
"You want to know my values? You want to know about my patriotism? My patriotism is rooted in the fact that my story ... is not possible anywhere else on earth," Obama said in Chapel Hill.
"That's why I love this country, that's what our election's about."
Obama charged that he was being targeted on the issue of patriotism and Wright instead of real issues, because "my opponents realize they don't have a better argument."