Clinton disagrees, but does not denounce Ferraro

March 11, 2008 6:00:11 PM PDT
Hillary Rodham Clinton said Tuesday she disagrees with Geraldine Ferraro, one of her fundraisers and the 1984 Democratic vice presidential candidate, for saying that Barack Obama "would not be in this position" if he were white instead of black. In a brief interview with The Associated Press, Clinton said she regretted Ferraro's remarks. The Obama campaign has called on the New York senator to denounce the comments and remove Ferraro from her unpaid position with the campaign.

Last week, Ferraro told the Daily Breeze of Torrance, Calif.: "If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman (of any color) he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept."

She also faulted a "very sexist media" in the historic race between a man bidding to be the first black president and a former first lady seeking to become the first female president.

In the AP interview, Clinton said, "I do not agree with that," and later added, "It's regrettable that any of our supporters - on both sides, because we both have this experience - say things that kind of veer off into the personal."

"We ought to keep this on the issues. There are differences between us" on approaches to issues such as health care and energy.

Ferraro is a former New York congresswoman and was Walter Mondale's running mate when he was the Democratic presidential nominee in 1984. She has endorsed Clinton and raised money for her campaign.

Obama called Ferraro's comments "patently absurd."

"I don't think Geraldine Ferraro's comments have any place in our politics or in the Democratic Party. They are divisive. I think anybody who understands the history of this country knows they are patently absurd," he told the Allentown Morning Call.

Obama senior adviser David Axelrod said Ferraro should be removed from her position with the Clinton campaign because of her comments.

"The bottom line is this, when you wink and nod at offensive statements, you're really sending a signal to your supporters that anything goes," Axelrod said in a conference call with reporters.

A defiant Ferraro dismissed the criticism in an interview with Fox News.

"I have to tell you that what I find is offensive is that everytime somebody says something about the campaign, you're accused of being racist."

She also said she was the vice presidential nominee 24 years ago because of her sex, saying if her name was "Gerard Ferraro" she wouldn't have been on the ballot.

The AP interview followed Clinton's appearance before an enthusiastic crowd of about 1,500 in the state capital.

On other subjects, Clinton described Sen. John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee-in-waiting, as a tough adversary on national security but stopped short of saying McCain is better qualified than Obama to be commander in chief.

"I don't want to use those words. I think that voters will have to make that decision," she said.

Clinton said her eight years as first lady and seven years in the Senate give her the credentials to stand "toe to toe" against McCain in the general election.

"I think Senator McCain will do everything in his power as a candidate to make national security central to the fall election, so we'd better be prepared as Democrats to match that," she said.

Asked what foreign policy crisis had tested her and showed she possesses the skills to be commander in chief, she cited her advocacy for the peace process in Northern Ireland and her speech at the 1995 U.S. Conference on Women in Beijing defending human rights.

"To this day, I will have people stop me or come to see me who talk about that speech and what it meant to them and how it set sort of a framework for American foreign policy," she said.

Former officials in her husband's administration who were active in foreign policy have said Clinton is taking credit for accomplishing more than some recall during those years.

Clinton declined to say whether she would accept an invitation to be Obama's running mate if he becomes the nominee. She recently hinted that she might welcome him as her running mate if she wins, but Obama ridiculed the idea.

"I'm not ruling anything in or out because I'm focused on winning the nomination," she said.

At the rally, Clinton said she has significant differences with Obama on key issues.

"Today my opponent is here in Pennsylvania talking about energy policy - I think specifically about wind energy - and that's great. Except in 2005, when we had a chance to say 'no' to Dick Cheney and his energy bill, my opponent said yes and voted for it," Clinton said to boos.

"All those tax subsidies and giveaways that have been used by the oil companies and others to retard the development of clean renewable energy ... I said no, and he said yes," she said.

She also criticized President Bush, who was photographed holding the hand of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah during a visit to Bush's ranch in Texas three years ago. Saudi Arabia is the world's largest exporter of oil.

"As your president, you will not see me holding hands with the Saudis," she said to cheers.

Associated Press Writers Beth Fouhy in Harrisburg, Pa., and Ann Sanner in Washington contributed to this report.