VAN NUYS, Calif. – The truce among Democratic presidential candidates over the divisive topics of race and gender appears to have weathered a full news cycle, one day after the rivals showed their congeniality during a televised debate in Las Vegas.
With that discussion out of the way, the political talk returned to the economy, at least in a backyard here in the San Fernando Valley where Senator Barack Obama staged a roundtable meeting to highlight the mortgage and foreclosure crisis affecting Americans.
Mr. Obama was seated around a table with four guests, asking for their stories about credit card debt and their problems with defaulting mortgage companies. As the session drew to a close, Mr. Obama was faced with a few questions of his own on a day when he took a break from the campaign trail in Nevada to raise money in California.
First, he was asked whether his contributions from Wall Street would present a conflict if he was elected, given all of his talk about reducing the role of money in politics and the influences of corporations.
“There’s no doubt that I got money from Wall Street because that’s where the money is,” Mr. Obama said. “We have a lot of supporters and a lot of contributors. We’ve raised, frankly, an awful lot of money in this campaign.”
Still, he said he has raised money through a broad-based network of small contributors, which he called “a testament to the grassroots nature of our campaign.”
Then, Mr. Obama was asked about his own financial picture, including how many credit cards he has. Two, he replied, both of which have a zero balance.
“It hasn’t always been the case,” he said. “These stories are familiar to me.”
Mr. Obama went on to explain how it wasn’t so long ago that he and his wife, Michelle, had debt from college and were using a credit card to get by.
“When I got out of law school and we got married, our combined student loan debt was higher than our mortgage. It took us 10 years to pay that off, which meant that we couldn’t save,” Mr. Obama said. “It meant that we weren’t socking away for our kids college education. It meant that there were times where you had to use the credit card to close the gap. There was a time when we had some significant balances.”
His fortunes, of course, changed after he signed a $1.9 million book deal for future titles after his autobiography, “Dreams From My Father,” became an overwhelming best-seller.
“We’ve been blessed over the last several years, but that’s a blessing,” Mr. Obama said. “It’s not that I somehow was smarter than everyone else.”