- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 28, 2008

UPDATED EXCLUSIVE:

DENVER | Taking a rare shot at another White House alumnus, former President Jimmy Carter tells The Washington Times that Bill Clinton became an unwittingly divisive figure during the Democratic primaries who hurt his wife’s chances to win the presidency with a series of verbal gaffes.

“As he tried to campaign for his wife, I think in the heat of the campaign, he made some verbal mistakes,” Mr. Carter said in an interview Wednesday night just minutes before Mr. Clinton took the podium at the Democratic National Convention. “I made plenty of them when I was running for president, too. So I don’t blame him for it, but I think in some of his remarks, he has hurt his wife’s candidacy.”

Mr. Carter praised the Clinton administration’s domestic policies. But when asked whether Mr. Clinton had been a divisive figure, he agreed though stressed he believed it was unintentional.

During the heated primary season, Mr. Clinton was rebuked by fellow Democrats such as Rep. Jim Clyburn, vice-chairman of the House Democratic Caucus and a former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, for making racially insensitive comments on the campaign trail against Sen. Barack Obama, the man who eventually defeated Hillary Rodham Clinton. The Clintons sought to put those bitter times behind them with prime time speeches this week that warmly embraced Mr. Obama’s nomination.

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Mr. Carter also criticized Mr. Clinton for waiting until the last minute to seek peace in the Middle East and urged Mr. Obama, if elected, to make peace between Israel and Palestine a priority. “

“I would like also for Obama to say, since I’m interested in the Middle East, that from the beginning of my administration, we’ll begin to work for peace for Israel and justice for the Palestinians,” said Mr. Carter, who provoked an outcry earlier this year for meeting with senior officials of the Palestinian party Hamas. “Whereas, in the previous period, the presidents have waited until the last year because it’s a very controversial issue.”

Mr. Carter said he would have been comfortable with a president John McCain had he won in 2000, but believes the likely Republican nominee has since morphed into a candidate espousing right-wing views, embracing President Bush’s tax cuts that he formerly opposed.

“I think he’s dramatically changed in the last few months,” Mr. Carter said. “He was for the separation of church and state, and now he’s in bed with the right-wing religious groups that might help him get elected as president. He was against off-shore drilling, until lately when the oil companies got to him and said, ‘You’ve got to do this.’”

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