“There has not been a stronger and more consistent advocate on LGBT issues than I have been.”

That is the message US Presidential hopeful Senator Barack Obama is trying to get across to gay voters in the face of controversy about his campaign in South Carolina.

In an interview with LGBT publication The Advocate, the candidate for the Democratic party nomination asked LGBT voters to judge him by his policies, in an attempt to end the row surrounding the appearance of an “ex-gay” preacher at one of his campaign events.

Human Rights Campiagn president Joe Solmonese had urged Senator Obama to cancel gospel singer Donnie McClurkin’s performance at a weekend concert to promote Obama’s bid for president in South Carolina.

The state is a key target for Obama if he is to have any chance of demonstrating he can capture large numbers of African-American votes.

Mc Clurkin is a self-proclaimed “ex-gay” who regularly preaches against homosexuality.

In a statement on his website posted last Monday the junior Senator from Illinois had tried to close down the controversy with the following statement:

“I have clearly stated my belief that gays and lesbians are our brothers and sisters and should be provided the respect, dignity, and rights of all other citizens.

“I have consistently spoken directly to African-American religious leaders about the need to overcome the homophobia that persists in some parts of our community so that we can confront issues like HIV/AIDS and broaden the reach of equal rights in this country.

“I strongly believe that African Americans and the LGBT community must stand together in the fight for equal rights.

“And so I strongly disagree with Reverend McClurkin’s views and will continue to fight for these rights as President of the United States to ensure that America is a country that spreads tolerance instead of division.”

That failed to satisfy gay rights activists, and so in his interview with The Advocate published on Friday Senator Obama admitted that his staff may have been at fault for not fully vetting the singer’s views on homosexuality.

“We viewed this simply as an opportunity to have a gospel concert as part of our overall outreach, and since he was singing at a concert along with a number of other artists, as opposed to being a spokesperson for us, probably it didn’t undergo the same kind of vet that someone who was serving as a surrogate for me might have,” he told The Advocate.

Senator Obama rejected the assertion that he is putting his Chrisitan constituency above his gay supporters.

He said the reason for the “faith outreach” programmes in his campaign, “is precisely because I don’t think the LGBT community or the Democratic Party is served by being hermetically sealed from the faith community and not in dialogue with a substantial portion of the electorate, even though we may disagree with them.

“Part of what I have done in my campaign and in my career is be willing to go to churches and talk to ministers and tell them exactly what I think.

“And go straight at some of these issues of homophobia that exist in the church in a way that no other candidate has done.

“I believe that’s important. We can try to pretend these issues don’t exist and then be surprised when a gay marriage amendment pops up and is surprisingly successful in a state.

“I think the better strategy is to take it head on and we’ve got to show up.

“These people of faith may be operating in part out of unfamiliarity, or they may be insular in terms of how they’re viewing LGBT issues, they may not understand how what they say may be hurtful, and the only way for us to be able to communicate that is to show up.”

At Sunday’s concert Mc Clurkin courted controversy by telling the audience of 2,500 African-Americans that God had “saved” him from homosexuality.

The first key primary elections will be held in January 2008.

Iowa, Nevada New Hampshire and South Carolina will be key indicators of who will eventually win the Democratic Party nomination.

Senator Hillary Clinton is leading Obama in the polls and this weekend he stepped up his attacks on the former First Lady, accusing her of trying to sound like a Republican.

“We never expected to be able to compete in national polls two months before the first vote was cast because we’re running against the dominant brand name in the Democratic Party over the last 20 years,” he told The Advocate.

His latest line of attack claims that Senator Clinton lacks coherent policies.

“One of the things that I firmly believe is that we’ve got to be clear with the American people right now about the important choices that we’re going to need to make in order to get a mandate for change, not to try to obfuscate and avoid being a target in the general election and then find yourself governing without any support for any bold propositions,” he said.