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Obama: Candidacy a sign of racial progress

  • Story Highlights
  • Sen. Barack Obama says white voters are ready to vote for a black candidate
  • Obama says to deny progress is to dishonor those who fought for civil rights
  • Obama says more blacks will support him once they learn of his record
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. Barack Obama said Friday the fact he is viewed as a legitimate presidential candidate is testament to the progress America has made on race relations.

Denying that progress would "dishonor the memories of all those who fought for our civil rights throughout the generations," said Obama, the only African-American candidate running for the presidential nomination.

"My belief is that we have changed sufficiently in this country that it is possible for a large number of whites to vote for an African-American candidate," the Illinois Democrat told CNN contributor Roland Martin. "If I did not believe that, I would not be running.

"I just want to point out that all those other candidates are taking me awfully seriously, and if they didn't think I could get white votes then they wouldn't be worrying about my campaign as much as they are," he added. Video Watch talk about race relations with CNN's Roland Martin »

Obama said he had to do well with African-America voters if he is to win the nomination, and acknowledged that Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, his chief rival for his party's nomination, has strong ties to the black community.

But Obama said he felt he could pull black voters away from Clinton once they learn more about him.

"If people know the work I've done as a community organizer, civil rights attorney, state legislator, U.S. senator, I feel confident that I will get a large share of the African-American vote," he said.

Obama said any conflict between himself and the Rev. Jesse Jackson had been "smoothed out" after Jackson, according to a South Carolina newspaper, said Obama was "acting like he's white" in response to the "Jena 6" case.

Jackson later said his comments were misinterpreted.

Obama said he was the first presidential candidate to question the severity of the charges in the Jena 6 case, which involves six black teenagers who are accused of beating a white teenager after a series of racially charged incidents at a high school in Jena, Louisiana.

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The case drew thousands of protesters to Jena September 20.

"Ironically, that statement was put out in consultation with Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., who is on my national steering committee," Obama said. "So, I think the reverend just didn't know some of the background of the work we had already put in on this." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Silvio Carrillio and Scott Anderson contributed to this report.

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