March 2, 2007 — There's a new sort of showdown in Selma — of the political variety.
Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton are coming to town to commemorate the legendary and bloody demand for voting rights.
Clinton and Obama will participate in a historic reenactment of the Voting Rights March that took place in Selma, Ala., on March 7, 1965, when 600 civil rights workers were violently attacked during a peaceful march for voting rights.
The two political heavyweights, vying for the Democratic nomination for the presidency, will be speaking at historic churches blocks from each other — and at the same time. They will also march in the same parade.
"Well, this wasn't something I anticipated, when we originally accepted the invitation. One thing I don't want to do is diminish the importance of the event, the sanctity of the event with a lot of political posturing and presidential politics," Obama told ABC News' Claire Shipman.
The senator said that he'd be willing to walk in the middle or the back of the march's reenactment to avoid detracting from the event.
Obama Takes the Lead in Poll
Even if Obama wishes to keep the historic march above the political fray, it's still a critical time to court the black vote.
A new ABCNews/Washington Post poll shows a dramatic reversal in fortune for the two candidates. In January, Clinton led Obama among blacks, 60 percent to 20 percent. Now Obama leads 44 percent to 33 percent.
Obama, however, says that his goal is to prove his worthiness as a candidate, rather than allow identity politics to win him the black vote.
"What I've always said is that I don't expect to get the African-American vote simply because I'm African-American. I think I've got to earn it," Obama said.
Avoiding Washington Power Games
This is the first time that the two candidates will be within shouting distance of each other since their campaigns traded ugly public barbs over a Hollywood fundraiser last month.
Obama, who has pegged his campaign as one that has moved beyond partisanship and political sniping, opened himself up to criticism for engaging in the quid pro quo of Washington politics.
"I did tell my staff that I thought we probably should have just entirely left it alone. They had their testosterone going and felt that we had been unfairly attacked," Obama said.
"But I do think that it is critical given the seriousness of the issues that we're dealing with right now, not to get drawn into the game as it's usually played in Washington," he said.
However, Obama also has to avoid being "swift-boated," the term coined after former Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry
failed to respond to attacks against his war record in Vietnam.
"I think you have to respond if you are attacked, but I think, responding with truth and restraint and civility is just as effective [as] responding with sarcasm and snappy comebacks," the senator said.
Still Trying to Quit
The other question that everyone asks the newly minted presidential candidate is about his penchant for cigarettes.
Obama told Shipman that he was kicking the habit with the help of Nicorette gum.
"The truth is that I was an intermittent smoker and I'd sneak a cigarette here or there. Since the habit was not severe, you know, I don't get the shakes or anything like that," Obama said.
He also has to meet the approval of someone far more critical than the voting public.
"Given how afraid I am of my wife, it's something that I'll stick with," he said.