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Obama: NH Won't Be Hurt By Primary Plan

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Obama: NH won't be hurt by primary plan

Sen. Barack Obama says a semi-national primary shaping up for the first week of February, is unhealthy for the political process but will make New Hampshire's retail-style of politics more important than ever.

The Democratic Presidential candidate, in a telephone interview yesterday, said the rush to the front of the primary/caucus calendar by about 20 states "in no way diminishes the importance" of Iowa, which holds the first caucus, and first-primary state New Hampshire.

"If anything, all the eyes in the nation are going to be fastened on New Hampshire, and the kind of retail politics that is called for in New Hampshire becomes that much more important because this is where most of the country is going to get a sense of who the candidates are," he said.

Obama, who will visit Claremont and Keene on Friday, also said he opposes any effort in Congress to link the funding of troops in Iraq to a timetable for a withdrawal.

The House is considering a bill that would provide nearly $100 billion to pay combat activities in Iraq and Afghanistan while requiring a withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq by Sept. 1, 2008.

Obama said there is no similar measure in the Senate because he and other Democratic senators fear President George W. Bush would continue to try to fight the war anyway.

"Our troops would end up suffering what they've already suffered from, which is finding themselves ill-equipped and under-trained for their mission," said Obama.

Obama said his bill requiring a phased withdrawal of troops by March 31, 2008, but does not de-fund them, is expected on the Senate floor this week, perhaps as soon as today.

"The vast majority of Democrats in the Senate have converged on the leadership bill that takes the date that was in our bill," he said.

Vice President Richard Cheney said this week setting a deadline for withdrawal is "telling the enemy simply to watch the clock and wait us out."

But Obama said, "The enemy right now is, from their perspective, in a strong position. They are able to attack our troops and then sink back into anonymity any time we decide to increase force levels.

"They are watching our standing in the world steadily deteriorate," he said. "They understand that it has caused great dissension here in the Untied States. I think they see the approach that Dick Cheney has been advocating as helpful to their cause."

Obama also said he "would like to see Alberto Gonzalez replaced" as attorney general because of recent controversies surrounding the firing of eight U.S. attorneys and FBI abuses of its power under the USA Patriot Act.

Obama said he opposed the initial appointment of Gonzalez because "the attorney general is supposed to be the people's lawyer, not the administration's lawyer.

"I did not have confidence that he would stand up to the President or contrain the actions of the administration when they might be crossing the line."

He said his fears now seem "well-founded."

Obama said the constitution requires "there is always somebody watching the watchers, otherwise a potential for abuses exists."

Obama said that the executive branch must be allowed to protect "our legitimate security interests," but, "We have failed to build in a system of checks and balances that ensures the executive branch is not in a position to unilaterally make determinations of how to strike that balance. They have to confer with people outside of the administration."

Obama stopped short or criticizing military Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Peter Pace for calling homosexuality "immoral" this week.

"We're having a ongoing debate in our culture about homosexuality," Obama said. "I believe that gays and lesbians are entitled to the rights that every American enjoys and if they are able and willing to serve in our military then we should re-examine those policies that prevent them from serving."

Obama tried to diffuse a reported disagreement between him and New York civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton, who said this week, "Why shouldn't the black community ask questions? Are we now being told, 'You all just shut up?'"

Sharpton was reportedly angered by an unattributed newspaper report that he was trying to hurt Obama's campaign because he is jealous of Obama.

"There was an article with an unattributed source in New York he took offense to," Obama said.

He denied that his campaign was the source for the story, and said, "I'm sure once he understands that, Reverend Sharpton will be smart enough not to want to get drawn into these kinds of arguments that are that are manufactured in newspapers."

Sharpton criticized Obama for backing pro-war Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut.

Obama said he supported Lieberman before Ned Lamont entered the race. Lamont, who opposed the war, was the choice of the Democratic establishment and won the party primary. But Lieberman won the general election as an independent.

When Lamont entered the race, "I had already made a commitment," Obama said.

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