IOWA FALLS, Iowa (AP) – Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said yesterday he does not think voters have a litmus test on religion, whether evangelical Christianity or his childhood years in a largely Muslim country.
“If your name is Barack Hussein Obama, you can expect it, some of that. I think the majority of voters know that I’m a member of the United Church of Christ, and that I take my faith seriously,” Obama said in an interview with The Associated Press.
“Ultimately what I think voters will be looking for is not so much a litmus test on faith as an assurance that a candidate has a value system and that is appreciative of the role that religious faith can play in helping shape people’s lives,” he said.
In the interview, Obama also said his race might be a “novelty” this early in the presidential contest, sparred with the prime minister of Australia over Iraq, and said he has a higher burden of proof with voters because of his relative inexperience. Obama formally announced his candidacy in Illinois on Saturday and made a beeline for Iowa, site of the first nominating contest next Jan. 14.
Obama, who was born in Hawaii, lived in mostly Muslim Indonesia with his mother and stepfather from 1967 to 1971. He subsequently returned to Hawaii to live with his maternal grandparents.
He attends a Chicago church with his wife and two young daughters. The 2008 presidential field also includes Republican Mitt Romney, a Mormon, and Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), an evangelical Christian who converted to Catholicism in recent years.
Obama’s leading rivals for the Democratic nomination are far better known to voters, the U.S. senator from Illinois said. He was elected in 2004.
“At least two of my fellow candidates have been campaigning nationally for years,” Obama said, referring to New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards. “They have an infrastructure and name recognition that are higher than mine so there will probably be a higher burden of proof for me.”
New minorities reside in early voting Iowa and New Hampshire but Obama said his race – his mother is white, his father is black – will not play a determining role.
“I think that early on it may spark some curiosity or a sense of novelty, but I think very quickly people will be judging me on the merits. Do I have a message that resonates with people’s concerns about health care and education, jobs and terrorism?” he said. “And if they do, then I think race won’t be a major factor.”
At a press conference later in Ames, Obama said he was proud to have opposed the Iraq war from the start while Clinton and others authorized the U.S.-led invasion.
“I don’t think there is a more significant set of decisions than the decision to go to war,” Obama said. “I think the war was a tragic mistake and it never should have been authorized.”