LEXINGTON, Ky. — Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, facing a likely defeat in next Tuesday's primary election, won't travel to Kentucky before the voting, but said he hopes to have much more time to win over Kentucky voters before the November general election.
He also blamed Fox News for disseminating "rumors" about him and said that that and e-mails filled with misinformation that have been "systematically" dispersed have hurt him in Kentucky.
"When we're able to campaign in a place like Iowa for several months and I can visit and talk to people individually, I do very well. That's harder to do at this stage in the campaign," Obama said in a brief telephone interview Friday. "And once we get past the primary, we'll ble to focus more on those states where we need to make sure people know my track record."
In contrast, Obama's rival, Sen. Hillary Clinton, will make five stops in Kentucky over the weekend, including appearances at two university campuses.
Obama spoke to more than 8,000 supporters in Louisville Monday night — his first time in the state since August. He said he had hoped to spend more time in Kentucky earlier this week but was called back to Washington, D.C. for votes on Tuesday.
Since then, he’s stumped in Oregon, which will hold its primary by mail on Tuesday, and South Dakota, where Democrats vote June 3, as well as in states that have already held their primary elections, such as Michigan and Missouri.
“We’re having to campaign in a lot of different places,” Obama said. “Obviously we think Kentucky is important. People in Kentucky are concerned about the same things people are concerned about all across the country — declining wages and incomes combined with the rising costs of everything from gas to health care.”
Obama’s wife, Michelle, is slated to campaign in Kentucky on Monday.
Obama conceded that he has a steep challenge to get his message and background to voters in states such as Kentucky — where he trails Sen. Hillary Clinton by 27 points, according to a poll published earlier this week — and West Virginia, where voters chose Clinton over Obama by 40 points on Tuesday.
“What it says is that I’m not very well known in that part of the country,” Obama said. “Sen. Clinton, I think, is much better known — not only because of her time in the White House with her husband — but also coming from a nearby state of Arkansas.”
Obama has been trying to introduce himself to Kentuckians using a series of biographical TV ads, as well as fliers, including one that shows him at a pulpit in front of a church’s cross and pipe organ.
He acknowledged that he’s trying to “reverse a lot of misconceptions” about his background. He is a Christian, although some e-mail chains have said he is a Muslim.
“Part of it is because there have been these e-mails that have been sent out very systematically, presumably by various political opponents, although I don’t know who,” he said. “And there are a lot of voters who get their news from Fox News. Fox has been pumping up rumors about my religious beliefs or my patriotism or what have you since the beginning of the campaign.”
As Clinton continues to argue that she is better suited to win in key, large swing states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio, Obama countered that he has performed better among independents.
And he said he and Clinton match up similarly against Republican nominee John McCain. Both trail McCain, the U.S. Senator from Arizona, by double digits in a Herald-Leader/WKYT poll of 600 likely general election voters. McCain leads Clinton by 12 points and Obama by 25 points.
“I think whoever the Democratic is we’re going to have some work to do in a state like Kentucky,” Obama said.
Republican National Committee Spokeswoman Katie Wright dismissed Obama’s contention that he’ll be competitive in Kentucky this fall.
"The more voters in Kentucky get to know Senator Obama, the more they will realize that he doesn't understand the economy or their values,” Wright said in a statement. “Higher taxes, threatening Second Amendment rights, taxing 'dirty energy' and taking choice out of healthcare won't benefit our country much less the hard working families of Kentucky."