MEDFORD, Ore. - Barack Obama refers to the past couple of weeks as a tough, turbulent stretch.
His foreign policy adviser quit for calling Democratic presidential rival Hillary Rodham Clinton a "monster." Then he had to distance himself from his longtime pastor's fiery statements, a controversy that threatened his image as a uniter. He trails in polls in the upcoming Pennsylvania primary. Obama also watched his lead wither in national opinion surveys.
"There's no doubt we had a turbulent couple of weeks but we've had turbulent weeks in the past," Obama told reporters Friday. "... It's not going to be a smooth straight line. There's times when the campaign is going well and there's times the campaign is not going well."
But as bad weeks go, things certainly could have been worse.
Obama received generally favorable reviews for his somber speech on the nation's racial divide, though it didn't completely silence the criticism over his former pastor's rhetoric. Then Florida and Michigan indicated they would not hold new primaries to replace the contests that favored Clinton but violated party rules. Campaign finance reports showed him far ahead in the money race. And finally, he picked up the much sought-after endorsement of New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson — one Clinton also had coveted.
Most importantly, as the Illinois senator prepares to takes a break from campaigning for a brief family vacation, he retains a nearly insurmountable lead in pledged delegates and is winning the nationwide popular vote.
With weeks to go before the next primary, imagery and perception matter.
It's almost impossible for Clinton to catch Obama in the delegate count, but he can't clinch the nomination through primaries alone. That leaves both candidates trying to woo superdelegates, the party leaders who can vote for whomever they choose.
Clinton's campaign says Obama's recent struggles prove she is the better candidate to face Republican John McCain in the general election. Setting aside the difficult delegate math, Clinton says the turbulence in Obama's camp proves he hasn't been vetted and would be vulnerable to Republican campaign tactics.
Obama's campaign tells a different story. Supporters credit him for addressing the furor over the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's comments head-on and for speaking from his heart. Obama's bad week, supporters say, revealed him to be confident, cool under pressure, even presidential.
"We had a couple tough weeks and I assume that when I'm president there will be periods where we're tested in these same kinds of ways," Obama said.
Clinton has used similar themes to get through difficult patches in her own campaign. She has cast herself as a fighter, someone who has pressed through difficult times and is ready to lead when facing a problem as president.
"I think everybody here knows I've lived through some crises and some challenging moments in my life," she said during a Democratic debate.
Not long ago, Clinton was the front-runner for the Democratic nomination. Then, after a series of defeats and a staff shake-up, her campaign appeared to be struggling. Now, Clinton is polling strong in the April 22 Pennsylvania primary. Her campaign believes, when the races are over, it can make the case to superdelegates that she has momentum and deserves their support.