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The Impact Of Obama's Speech: A Pennsylvania Political Expert Weighs In

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Barack Obama delivered a speech yesterday that is a rarity in the world of politics. Some called it historic. His speech addressed the controversy regarding the comments of his former pastor Jeremiah Wright, and race relations in America.

What kind of impact, if any, will his speech have on voters in Pennsylvania?

I interviewed University of Pennsylvania Political Science Professor, Rogers M. Smith, yesterday about Obamas speech, and specifically asked how he thought it may impact the upcoming Pennsylvania primary.

Smith, along with Philip A. Klinkner, is author of the book, "The Unsteady March: The Rise and Decline of Racial Equality in America," which was published in 1999.

This is a small excerpt from Obamas speech that he made in Philadelphia yesterday:

"I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I was raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a Depression to serve in Patton's Army during World War II and a white grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth while he was overseas.

I've gone to some of the best schools in America and lived in one of the world's poorest nations. I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slaveowners -- an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters."

"Excellent, thoughtful, and constructive," was how Smith described Obama's speech.

I asked Smith who he thought Obama was reaching out to in his speech today.

"Senator Obama sought simultaneously to assure white and Latino Americans that he was not siding with any form of race hatred while also assuring black Americans that he understood their anger and affirmed his community with them. But above all, he strove to shift the prevailing political discourse from a focus on racial divisions to a common progressive agenda of change," said Smith.

A Quinnipiac Pennsylvania poll released yesterday shows Clinton is leading Obama 53-41 percent.

Smith said once people have time to digest Obamas speech, it may change peoples minds in Pennsylvania, but he said it certainly would not immediately.

I asked Smith his opinion on how he believed Jeremiah Wright's comments hurt Obama in the Keystone State, if at all.

"Pennsylvania is one of the places where Obama had to be careful not to appear to be "dissing" the black church, particularly outspoken clerical leaders, while he nonetheless did have to distance himself from the despair about white Americans and American progress that he discerned in some of Wright's sermons. The focus on Wright's comments and Obama's stance toward them was not helpful to him here, so it was risky but also wise to address the issue head on as he did," said Smith.

Smith said he thought Obama's speech was, "candid and sincere." When asked about whether the speech will have any changing or positive effect for Obamas campaign in Pennsylvania, he added, "it remains to be seen how much."

Smith, who received his Ph.D. in Political Science from Harvard University in 1980, was also Co-Director, at Yale ISPS Center for the Study of Race, Inequality, and Politics from 1995-2001.

When asked about which demographic this speech may impact the most in Pennsylvania, this what Smith said.

"It will most help white liberals feel comfortable about voting for Obama, both because they will agree with its substance and because it will strengthen their belief that he can win. But it will also bolster his already very strong support among most black voters, because it does articulate how many feel. It will help some with white moderates and not at all with conservatives."

I would like to thank Professor Smith at the University of Pennsylvania, for his insight and analysis.