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Michelle Obama: Let's move past Wright, get back to issues

  • Story Highlights
  • Michelle Obama is proud of husband's actions surrounding Wright controversy
  • "We're moving forward," she said, "Barack was so clear, and he's been so open"
  • Sen. Barack Obama has been dogged by comments his ex-pastor made
  • Obama is ahead in votes, number of states won, pledged delegates and fundraising
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BOONVILLE, Indiana (CNN) -- Michelle Obama said Wednesday that her husband's move to distance himself from his controversial former minister has been "painful," but that she's pleased with the way he's handled the situation.

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Michelle Obama says her husband's campaign should be about issues, not the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

"I was proud of the statement he made yesterday," she said in an interview with CNN's Suzanne Malveaux. "It was a tough thing for him to do -- it's a painful situation to be in."

On Tuesday, Obama said he was "outraged" by comments the Rev. Jeremiah Wright made to the National Press Club in Washington on Monday. The candidate said he was "saddened by the spectacle" of what Wright said.

He said Wright, who officiated his wedding and baptized his children, seemed "not the person I met 20 years ago." Video Watch Michelle Obama speak »

Earlier this year, fiery snippets from some of Wright's sermons began circulating on the Internet. They included statements in which he seemed to say that the United States had brought the September 11, 2001, attacks upon itself and that Democratic rival Sen. Hillary Clinton has an advantage over Obama because she is white.

During several appearances this week, Wright seemed to suggest the U.S. government might be responsible for the spread of AIDS and said Obama had only distanced himself from the minister for political reasons.

"That wasn't the speech of a political opportunist," Michelle Obama said of her husband's widely praised speech on race relations, made when Wright's controversial sermons first came to light. "Barack has been trying to bridge gaps all his life."

She said it's time for the campaign to move forward from the controversy and return the focus to issues like the economy and health care.

"With all due respect, we're moving forward," she said. "Barack was so clear, and he's been so open about this issue, and he speaks for me as well."

Obama, a U.S. senator from Illinois, leads Clinton in overall votes, number of states won, pledged delegates and fundraising with only nine primary contests remaining. But the Wright controversy, combined with recent Clinton victories in states like Pennsylvania and Ohio, has threatened to stall his momentum going into the Democratic convention in Denver.

The interviewer later prefaced a question by saying she wanted to "turn the page" from the Wright controversy.

"No, you don't," Mrs. Obama replied.

In his race relations speech, Barack Obama said he rejected Wright's comments but could no more reject the man himself than he could the entire black community.

But on Tuesday, he said he found Wright's recent comments "appalling," saying the former pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, Illinois, had "shown little regard for me" and seemed more concerned with "taking center stage."

"It is completely opposed to what I stand for and where I want to take this country," he said.

Michelle Obama said she hopes that message gets through to the public and the media -- which has spent weeks keeping the controversy front-and-center in advance of upcoming primaries in North Carolina and Indiana.

"We're going to do our best to move forward," she said. "Barack and I and our campaign, we're going to, with everything in our power -- if allowed to by the press -- move forward."

The candidate's wife also said she believes Obama will eventually win the nomination.

"There's still an energy and a passion among his supporters," she said. "And people are coming on board every single day. So, yes, absolutely he can win. And, yes, absolutely I think he's the person that needs to lead this country."

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And, she said, the current controversies could lead to a much better place.

"Because it's through this limited struggle that we're facing ... if out of that comes something grander and we get in a place where we're a more unified nation, where people aren't focused on the small stuff, and we're looking at big picture -- brave, courageous approaches to our problems," she said. "And people, you know, are ready to roll up their sleeves and engage again." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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