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Obama's link to gospel singer sparks controversy

October 22, 2007 | 11:40 am

Barack Obama is drawing fire for including Donnie McClurkin, a Grammy-winning gospel singer who has crusaded against homosexuality, on a concert and political tour that the Democratic presidential candidate will launch in South Carolina later this week.

Commentator Earl Ofari Hutchinson, author of "A Colored Man's Journey Through 20th Century Segregated America" and several other books that examine race relations, posted a blog over the weekend calling on Obama to "cancel and repudiate" the tour -- "and do it now" -- because of McClurkin. Hutchinson terms the singer a "notorious gay basher" and charged that Obama "ripped a page from the Bush campaign playbook" by traveling with him.

The tour is slated to start Friday in Charleston and will feature other well-known gospel singers and groups, such as the Mighty Clouds of Joy. In the release that announced the event, campaign aide Joshua DuBois is quoted as saying: "This is another example of how Barack Obama is defying conventional wisdom about how politics is done and giving new meaning to meeting people at the grassroots level. This concert tour is going to bring new people into the political process and engage people of faith in an unprecedented way."

Hutchinson's take was a bit different (to say the least). Noting that ...

Obama has "sold himself as a healer and consensus builder," the commentator added: "But healing and consensus building does not mean sucking up to someone that publicly boasts that he's in 'a war' against gays, and that the aim of his war is to 'cure' them. That's what McClurkin has said."

(UPDATE -- This evening, the Obama campaign sent us this comment from the candidate: “I have clearly stated my belief that gays and lesbians are our brothers and sisters and should be provided the respect, dignity, and rights of all other citizens.  I have consistently spoken directly to African-American religious leaders about the need to overcome the homophobia that persists in some parts our community so that we can confront issues like HIV/AIDS and broaden the reach of equal rights in this country.

"I strongly believe that African Americans and the LGBT community must stand together in the fight for equal rights.  And so I strongly disagree with Reverend McClurkin’s views and will continue to fight for these rights as President of the United States to ensure that America is a country that spreads tolerance instead of division.”)

McClurkin, who as a boy was sexually abused by two male relatives, has experience in the political spotlight -- in 2004, he performed at the Republican National Convention on the same evening that President Bush accepted his party's re-nomination.

"Embrace the Change" is the name the Obama campaign has given the upcoming tour, which will end Sunday. "Stave Off Hillary" might be a more accurate title.

Black voters traditionally constitute about 50% of the turnout in the South Carolina Democratic primary, one of the early contests in the nominating process, and many analysts initially assumed that pride in Obama's quest to become the first African American president would give him an inherent advantage in the state.

A Times/Bloomberg poll conducted in South Carolina last month found Hillary Clinton easily leading, in part because she was running ahead of Obama among black voters.

(UPDATE -- The Obama campaign calls attention to a poll by Winthrop University, in Rock Hill, S.C., and South Carolina Educational Television that showed Obama ahead of Clinton among blacks in the state, 35.4% to 30.7%. Support for other candidates was negligible and 28.7% of those surveyed were undecided. The poll, conducted between mid-August and early September, interviewed 657 African-Americans and had an error margin of plus-or-minus 3.82%.)

-- Don Frederick

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