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Race takes center stage in presidential campaign

   Race, the "four-letter word" that previously had only peripheral impact on Sen. Barack Obama's quest to become the nation's first black president, is suddenly at the epicenter of the 2008 campaign.

   After the senator on Tuesday felt compelled to discuss the racially centered and controversial remarks of his longtime pastor, the role of the black church in politics also re-enters the spotlight.

   But politics from the pulpit has long been an accepted practice of the black church. Political figures from Mario M. Cuomo to Hillary Rodham Clinton to H. Carl McCall have long courted black voters in Buffalo's African-American congregations. Even George W. Bush, then governor of Texas, campaigned in Mount Olive Baptist Church in 1999, urging his audience to "rally the armies of compassion."

   Obama is now asking voters to understand the role of politics in the black church, and he enters damage-control mode in an attempt to quell the firestorm of controversy following Wright's remarks.

   -- Robert J. McCarthy

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