LAS VEGAS — With puzzlement and a touch of humor, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama weighed in Friday on a question posed by some in the African-American community about whether he's "black enough" to represent them in the White House.
Speaking to a packed ballroom at the National Association of Black Journalists convention here, Obama said he found the question curious because it appeared to go deeper than his brown skin or his record as a U.S. senator from Illinois or a member of that state's legislature.
"It's not my track record. It's not that I can't give a pretty good speech; from what I've heard I can preach once in a while," he told the audience. "What it really does lay bare, I think, in part: We're still locked into the notion that somehow if you appeal to white folks then there must be something wrong."
Some blacks have questioned his ethnicity because he was raised by a white American mother and an African father, who left the household when Obama was young.
Obama added that his educational background — he attended Harvard Law School — might contribute to some people doubting his racial pedigree.
"There's some of that 'Is he keeping it real because he went to Harvard,' which a lot of you in the audience had to deal with . . . you'd think that we'd be over that by now," he said.
The Illinois senator, who trails Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., in most national presidential polls, is regarded as the first African-American candidate with a legitimate shot at the Democratic presidential nomination.
Early conventional wisdom was that African-American voters — a key Democratic voting bloc — would enthusiastically flock to Obama's campaign, making the path to the nomination more difficult for Clinton, former Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., and the rest of the large Democratic presidential field.
That hasn't come to pass. Clinton, armed with former President Bill Clinton's connections, has aggressively pursued the African-American vote and endorsements from key African-American leaders in the political, business and entertainment arenas.
The "blackness" issue dogged Obama early in the race. Some African-American leaders such as the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton — both former presidential candidates — initially told African-American voters that they should cast their ballots based on their political interests, not skin color.
Clinton held a commanding lead over Obama among African-Americans early in the race. An ABC News/Washington poll in January showed Clinton ahead of Obama among African-Americans 60 percent to 20 percent.
But Obama has closed the gap. A Gallup poll released in June showed Clinton leading Obama among African-Americans 43 percent to 42 percent, a virtual dead heat.
Obama arrived in Las Vegas prepared to confront the "blackness" question, which was the subject of one of the convention's panels.
He used elements from the old joke about time and so-called "colored people time" as the reason that he was late for Friday's convention events.
"You guys keep asking if I'm black enough," he said with a straight face. "I thought I'd just stroll in."