Clinton keeps Obama's comments alive

April 13, 2008 7:31:44 PM PDT
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton tried to portray herself as an ally of the middle class on Sunday by keeping alive Barack Obama's comments about bitter voters in small towns while taking her campaign door to door in her late father's boyhood hometown. She said Obama's words were "elitist and divisive" and warranted further explanation.

Obama has been on the defensive for telling a private audience in California that economically frustrated people in small towns get bitter and "cling to guns or religion" to express their feelings. Obama since has said he could have chosen better words and that he regretted offending anyone.

Clinton didn't think that was enough.

"Senator Obama has not owned up to what he said and taken accountability for it," she told reporters during an informal news conference outside a home. "What people are looking for is an explanation. What does he really believe? How does he see people here in this neighborhood, throughout Pennsylvania, Indiana, North Carolina, other places in our country? And I think that's what people are looking for, some explanation, and he has simply not provided one."

Clinton also said Obama's comments feed into long-held stereotypes of the Democratic Party as being out of touch with regular people, suggesting the party may have a tough time winning the election in November if Obama becomes the nominee.

"I think his comments were elitist and divisive," she said, noting the party's battles with the perception that it is out of touch.

"You don't have to think back too far to remember that good men running for president were viewed as being elitist and out of touch with the values and the lives of millions of Americans," she added, referring to John Kerry, the defeated 2004 Democratic nominee.

"I think it's very critical that the Democrats really focus in on this and make it clear that we are not (elitist). We are going to stand up and fight for all Americans," Clinton said.

The debate over Obama's words was likely to continue Sunday evening as both candidates scheduled separate appearances at forum on faith and values at Messiah College near Harrisburg, Pa., that was being televised nationally by CNN, as well as in their debate Wednesday night in Philadelphia.

The comments gave Clinton - who trails Obama in delegates, popular votes and states won - a new opening to court working-class Democrats less than 10 days before the Pennsylvania primary on April 22, which she must win to keep her campaign alive.

At issue is what Obama said during a closed fundraiser in San Francisco last Sunday. He tried to explain his troubles in winning over some working-class voters, saying they have become frustrated with economic conditions: "It's not surprising, then, they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."

The comments were posted last Friday on The Huffington Post Web site and critics - including Clinton, likely Republican nominee John McCain and other GOP officials - pounced, portraying the Harvard-educated lawyer as snooty.

Obama tried to quell the furor Saturday.

"If I worded things in a way that made people offended, I deeply regret that," he said in an interview with the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal.

Earlier Saturday, speaking in Muncie, Ind., Obama said there had been a "political flare-up because I said something that everybody knows is true, which is that there are a whole bunch of folks in small towns in Pennsylvania, in towns right here in Indiana, in my hometown in Illinois, who are bitter. They are angry. They feel like they have been left behind. They feel like nobody is paying attention to what they're going through."

Despite his comments, two Pennsylvania newspapers - The Morning Call of Allentown and the Times-Tribune of Scranton - endorsed Obama on Sunday.

Clinton campaigned door to door in a residential neighborhood in Scranton, not far from where her father, Hugh Rodham, is buried. Several people chanted her name as she stopped to greet them and sign photographs. She paid tribute to her father, calling him a "very self-reliant, independent, hardworking person who believed that you worked for everything you got in life" and one of the greatest influences in her life.

She tried to appeal to the people of Scranton, saying both had experienced some hard knocks in life.

"I relate to people who may have been knocked down because the real test is whether you get back up and the people of Scranton are getting back up and they are doing what they need to do," Clinton said.

Meanwhile, Clinton's husband, former President Bill Clinton, added his voice to the mix.

Campaigning for his wife in Bloomsburg, Pa., he opened his remarks in a middle-school gym by relaying comments he said were made to him before he arrived on stage. "I just want you to know that the people you are about to see, they're not bitter, they're proud," Clinton told the crowd. "They just want this country to go in a different direction."