Carter Stays Neutral in Race, But Praises Obama’s Oratory


By: Wall Street Journal

By DOUGLAS A. BLACKMON

PLAINS, Ga. — Former President Jimmy Carter lavished praise on Illinois Sen. Barack Obama during an interview at his home on Monday, though he won’t formally endorse any candidate in the race for the Democratic nomination.

“Obama’s campaign has been extraordinary and titillating for me and my family,” Mr. Carter said. The 83-year-old former president, who left the White House in 1981, compared Mr. Obama’s speeches to those of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and said he believed the candidate could carry some southern states if he becomes the Democratic nominee.

Mr. Carter also said he talked by telephone at length on Monday with former President Bill Clinton, who was “trying to explain that he was not raising the race issue” on the campaign trail. Mr. Carter said the phone call was to finalize speaking arrangements for Mr. Clinton’s appearance at a meeting organized by Mr. Carter of moderate Baptists in Atlanta beginning today. But much of the conversation centered on the presidential campaign, Mr. Carter said.

Mr. Clinton “has said a few things that I think he wishes he hadn’t said,” Mr. Carter said. “He doesn’t call me often, but the fact that he called me this morning and spent a long time explaining his position indicates that it’s troublesome to them, the adverse reaction.”

“I told him I hoped it would die down…the charged atmosphere concerning the race issue,” Mr. Carter said. “And I think it will.”

The Clinton campaign didn’t immediately comment regarding the conversation or on Mr. Carter’s remarks about Mr. Obama.

Mr. Carter, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002, has assiduously avoided involvement in the nitty-gritty of Democratic politics in the years since his presidency — partly to avoid conflicts that might entangle the work of his nonprofit, the Carter Center.

But more than once he has given public signals of encouragement to politicians he likes. In August, he introduced Sen. John Edwards, who now trails Mr. Obama and New York Sen. Hillary Clinton in the Democratic nominating contest, at an event held near Plains.

Mr. Carter said he has had limited direct contact with Mr. Obama but has been particularly impressed with the candidate’s recent public appearances. “He has an extraordinary oratory…I think that Obama will be almost automatically a healing factor in the animosity now that exists, that relates to our country and its government.”

Write to Douglas A. Blackmon at douglas.blackmon@wsj.com

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