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Retracing Obama’s campaign

They appear to be on friendly terms now, occasionally hashing out U.S. foreign policy in one-on-one meetings at a picnic table on the White House grounds.

But it wasn’t so long ago that President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton were locked in a mortal struggle for the Democratic presidential nomination.

A new Obama biography by New Yorker editor David Remnick revisits a fraught period when the contest was getting increasingly personal. As Obama closed in on the party’s nomination in 2008, he spoke ruefully about her refusal to quit. He told a friend at one point: “Do I have to drive a stake through her heart? She just will not die!” the book says.

In the course of his reporting, Remnick interviewed the president along with scores of other friends, relatives and Obama aides. The book, called “The Bridge,” also offers fresh insights into Obama’s relationship with his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., whose incendiary sermons nearly sank Obama’s campaign.

Obama was attracted to Wright’s commitment to social justice, according to the book, but a then-colleague of Obama told Remnick that Obama also saw Wright’s church “as a power base.”

Mike Kruglik, a fellow community organizer, is quoted as saying: “You can’t interpret what Obama does without thinking of the power factor. Even then. For a long time, I wouldn’t talk about this, but he told me way back then that he was intrigued by the possibility of becoming mayor of Chicago.”

When ABC’s “World News Tonight” aired video of some of Wright’s sermons, the Obama campaign was caught flat-footed. Former campaign manager David Plouffe said he and other top aides hadn’t seen all the tapes of Wright’s sermons. “We failed the candidate in that regard,” Plouffe says, according to the book.

Obama recovered with a well-received speech on race relations in Philadelphia. At that point, Obama made clear he wanted Wright to stay home and keep silent, the book says. Remnick goes on to write: “One Obama supporter -- ‘a close friend of Barack’s,’ Wright claimed -- even offered to send Wright money if he would only be quiet. Wright refused.”

Often portrayed as stoic and cool, Obama is described as tearing up on one occasion. He was rehearsing his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention in Denver in August 2008, when he came to a passage honoring Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech 45 years earlier.

“He couldn’t get past the phrase ‘forty-five years ago,’ ” Remnick writes. “ ‘I gotta take a minute,’ Obama told his aides.”

He then circled the room and retreated to the bathroom, eyes filling with tears.

peter.nicholas@ latimes.com

joliphant@latimes.com


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