Full Interview: Sen. Barack Obama

Katie Couric spoke with Sen. Barack Obama on the eve of two closely contested Democratic primaries in Indiana and North Carolina. He discussed the gas tax holiday, his electability and the importance of focusing on the issues.

KATIE COURIC: Senator Obama, if you win North Carolina and Hillary Rodham Clinton wins Indiana tomorrow, where do you go from there?

BARACK OBAMA: We go to West Virginia and then Kentucky and Oregon and Montana, Puerto Rico, South Dakota. We're gonna be campaigning until June 3rd. But one of the things I've seen both in Indiana and North Carolina is not only the continued interest in this campaign, but people really being concerned about how any Democratic nominee is going to fix the economy and deal with some issues like gas prices in an honest forceful way. And so I'm glad in these last couple of days what we're seeing is a real debate about some substantive policy issues.

COURIC: Well, let me ask you about that Senator. You were opposed to Senator Clinton's plan for a gas tax holiday, the same one Senator McCain proposes. Are you proposing any short term relief for this current gas crisis that is affecting so many Americans?

OBAMA: I meet Americans every day who are really hard hit. They are seeing a hundred bucks out of their paychecks for the month because of rising gas prices. That could make the difference about whether or not they can pay their bills. So absolutely, I want to make sure that tax stimulus package proposed that would follow up the initial rebate check with another one if you had three consecutive months of unemployment. That gets out to people right away. And in fact, we have a better chance of getting that done than the proposal that John McCain and Hillary Clinton have put forward, but understand this, Katie: the idea of a gas tax holiday is a phony approach. It is a gimmick. We saw this tried in a number of other states including my home state of Illinois. And what happens is, at best, you're seeing pennies over 90 days, but more typically what happens is the oil companies just jack up prices by the same amount as the gas tax was as it's suspended, so consumers don't see the savings and what's worse is that Senator Clinton says she is going to pay for it by a windfall profits tax that everyone will tell you has no chance of being passed because George Bush won't sign it, so instead we'll take money out of the federal highway fund that fixes our roads and bridges and can cost us thousands of jobs in places like Indiana and North Carolina. So this is a typical Washington response trying to get through the next election instead of taking seriously the need to raise fuel efficiency standards, invest in alternative fuels. Solve this problem and give people some meaningful relief, and that's why I think it's a real choice for people in this next election.

COURIC: Let me talk to you about the primaries tomorrow. You have outspent Hilllary Clinton in several states like Ohio and Pennsylvania. You are the frontrunner currently. Why wouldn't you win in the Hoosier state?

OBAMA: Well, look, there's no doubt we've had a tough couple of weeks with the remarks of my former pastor and the wall-to-wall coverage on that. And as a consequence we weren't able to get out our message about investing in renewable energy and clean energy and creating millions of jobs or rebuilding the country's infrastructure or providing tuition credits for students so they can go to college. So this week, fortunately, we have been able to talk about these issues - the bread and butter issues that people care about and are at stake in this election. And so it's always gonna be a tight race in Indiana and I still think that we've go a wonderful chance of winning in Indiana, but I think it's still going to depend on turnout and depend on whether voters looking at the choices decide, do we want to keep on doing the same thing that we've been doing in the past or is this an opportunity for us to make a clean break, stop with special interest driven, dominated Washington and start having our leaders talk honestly with the American people about how we're going to meet future challenges.

COURIC: Senator Obama, what will you say to those superdelegates if you don't do better among white working-class voters tomorrow? How will you convince them of your electability?

OBAMA: Katie, this issue has come up lately because it's the only argument that Senator Clinton has for winning the nomination. But in fact we've won by substantial margins in places like Virginia, Iowa, Wisconsin. The polls indicate we can beat John McCain in all the swing states. And your own polls most recently indicate that we can beat John McCain. So I don't think the question is going to be electablility. The question will be, who has a vision for moving this country forward and has the leadership to allow us to finally deal with the energy crisis, will allow us to finally put in place affordable universal healthcare. That's going to be the question I think superdelegates should ask because that's going to be the question voters will ask. And the fact that we're in the lead as a consequence of the results of primary and caucuses as well as the popular vote indicates the degree to which our vision is the one that can win in November.

COURIC: Let me ask you, you mention a poll, our CBS News/New York Times poll shows that almost half of the voters believe that political motivation is the main reason you renounced Rev. Wright. What is your reaction to that?

OBAMA: It's interesting because if you think about it Katie, and I'm thinking about it politically, that would've happened much earlier. I would've denounced him immediately. But this was a relationship that our family had had with the church and we tried to handle it sensitively and in fact, ignored some of the politics behind this thing. But what your poll suggests is the American people have put this behind them and they are focused on who in fact can solve the problems they are faced with day in and day out: jobs being shipped overseas, high gas prices, high food prices, people trying to save for retirement. Those are the issues we are going to talk about today, tomorrow and all the way until November.

COURIC: Are you concerned though, Senator, that your relationship with him may dog you or continue to dog you if in fact you're the Democratic nominee during the general election process?

OBAMA: Katie, as I already indicated, your own polls indicate the American people are ready to move on on the issue and that's why we're really going to stay focused on the issues that really matter to the people who are struggling right now to make sure that they can achieve their American dream.

COURIC: Do you think your relationship with Rev. Wright has been permanently damaged or severed?

OBAMA: Yes, and I already indicated as much.

COURIC: And finally Senator, have you heard from Rev. Wright., and we're not gonna use all this but I'm just curious, since you repudiated him last week.

OBAMA: No.

COURIC: Have you heard from him at all or any of his associates?

OBAMA: No, I have not.

OBAMA: No, I haven't Katie.

COURIC: Okay, Sen. Obama, I know you're sick of the Rev. Wright questions, but we're going to focus mainly on the other stuff and I thank you for your time.