Barack Obama was 20 minutes late for a speech to thousands of black journalists gathered in Las Vegas. So when the Illinois senator and...

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LAS VEGAS — Barack Obama was 20 minutes late for a speech to thousands of black journalists gathered in Las Vegas. So when the Illinois senator and presidential contender finally made it to the stage Friday, he alluded to “CP time,” or colored people’s time, a long-running, self-deprecating joke among blacks about stereotypical assumptions that they are never on time.

“I want to apologize for being a little bit late,” Obama said. “But you guys keep on asking whether I’m black enough. I figured I’d stroll in.”

Everyone laughed, but the comment went to the heart of a key issue for Obama, and he questioned why his race had become such an issue with the media and, subsequently, black voters.

“It’s not because of my physical experience. It’s not because of my track record, because there’s nobody in this race who has a stronger track record on the issues that directly pertain to the African-American community.”

Clinton, who spoke to the journalists Thursday, was the object of Obama’s wit at several points. Asked if he would consider her as a running mate, he said she certainly would be among those on the short list.

“Clinton is on the short list for president, too,” he deadpanned.

Obama seemed to have chosen his Las Vegas appearance to confront an anomaly of his campaign: He has enjoyed rock-star popularity among the general public, which has allowed him to raise enormous political contributions, especially for a first-term senator running for president.

Yet national polls show he trails Clinton among black voters.

There have been rumblings that black voters may question whether he has shared their experiences, having grown up in Hawaii and attended top colleges.

Obama attributed his dilemma to the mixed feelings of a group long on the outside that senses its political fortunes might be turning.

“It’s fear,” he said. “We don’t want to be too excited by the prospect and then be let down.”

He asked, “Why not give it a chance?” a question that might become a campaign theme.