Obama reaches out to religious leaders

CHICAGO For the second time in a week Barack Obama left the travelling press corps sitting on the tarmac of an airport. while he sped off to a secret meeting. The destination last Thursday was a private one-on-one with Democratic rival Hillary Clinton in Washington D.C. Tuesday afternoon, he borrowed a conference room in a Loop law firm to meet with several dozen religious leaders to talk about faith issues. The campaign says that some of the ministers support him, but not all.

The Reverend T.D. Jakes, the prominent pastor of a mega-church in Dallas, Texas, was one of several dozen nationally-renowned evangelical leaders from around the country attending a private meeting with Barack Obama on the 33rd floor of a downtown law firm.

"He asked me to host the meeting and I provided him space for it. It would be up to his staff to disclose the purpose of the meeting and the folks he is meeting with. It wouldn't be appropriate for me to do so," said Alan Solow, Obama supporter.

The Obama campaign says the meeting is private because a lot of the religious leaders want it that way and that reaching out to the faith community for advice and guidance is one of Obama's top priorities and not, they claim, an attempt to repair the damage caused by the rantings of his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, and a Catholic priest from the South Side of Chicago, Father Michael Pfleger.

As for Reverend Jakes, he went into the meeting with an open mind.

"For me it's an opportunity to hear Senator Obama's perspective and a way for the other candidates to make appropriate decisions," said Jakes.

The other private meeting in Chicago Tuesday is reportedly taking place between high-level emissaries of Hillary Clinton and some of Obama's top people to talk about Clinton's massive campaign debt and a role in the upcoming Obama campaign, at the Democratic convention, and then perhaps in an Obama administration, now that she is suspending her own campaign and endorsing her Democratic primary fold.

"Our teams are now working together to figure out how we move forward on a whole variety of fronts. I think that what she is really interested in, as she said on Saturday, is figuring out how are we going to move forward to make sure we win the White House," said Obama.

The Obama campaign needs Hillary Clinton in a lot of ways: to connect with 17 million Democrats who voted for her, thousands of paid and volunteer staffers who worked for her, and hundreds of donors who contributed $200 million to her primary effort. She needs Obama if she hopes to get on the ticket or have a role in his administration. And she can definitely use his help in wiping out a $30 million debt from the primaries.

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