- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 24, 2008

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton yesterday evoked Robert F. Kennedy’s 1968 assassination when justifying the long Democratic primary, and did quick damage control after it was taken as a reference to the perceived danger Sen. Barack Obama faces in his bid to be the first black president.

Mrs. Clinton told a South Dakota newspaper editorial board her husband’s nomination in 1992 wasn’t wrapped up until June, and “we all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California.”

The Obama campaign called the remarks “unfortunate,” and said the statement “has no place in this campaign.”

Throughout his campaign against Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Obama has been compared to both assassinated Kennedys and fear of an attempt on his life is a topic voters quietly raise in light of threats reportedly made against the Illinois senator.

He has had a security detail for more than a year, the earliest ever in a presidential campaign, and his security was beefed up in January after Mr. Obama won the Iowa caucus. Voters attending his rallies are asked not to bring large bags and must go through metal detectors at most events, and snipers have been spotted on rooftops during his larger outdoor rallies.

Mrs. Clinton told reporters later her intention had been to make a historical reference and said the Kennedy family has been on her mind lately.

Democrats from both camps yesterday agreed the remark may have been careless but was harmless.

Speaking to editors at the Sioux Falls Argus-Leader, Mrs. Clinton said she was flummoxed by those who want her to end her White House bid before the final three contests in the first week of June, complaining, “People have been trying to push me out of this ever since Iowa.

“I find it curious. Because it is unprecedented in history. I don’t understand it. Between my opponent and his camp and some in the media there has been this urgency to end this,” she said. “Historically, that makes no sense.”

She cited her husband Bill Clinton’s 1992 race and then referenced Mr. Kennedy, who was fatally shot on June 5, 1968, in Los Angeles after winning the pivotal California Democratic primary. He was the younger brother of President John F. Kennedy, who also was assassinated.

After the interview was widely circulated on the Internet and played on television, Mrs. Clinton defended the comment from the campaign trail in South Dakota, which along with Montana holds its primary June 3, drawing the primary season to a close.

“I was referencing those to make the point that we have had nomination primary contests that go into June. That’s a historic fact,” she said.

Her campaign also released a statement from the South Dakota newspaper’s executive editor, Randell Beck, who said the assassination reference “appeared to focus on the timeline of his primary candidacy and not the assassination itself.”

The New York senator said she regrets if the comments were “in any way offensive,” and noted she has been thinking about a third Kennedy brother — Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, who this week was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor.

“The Kennedys have been much on my mind the last days because of Senator Kennedy and I regret that if my referencing that moment of trauma for our entire nation, and particularly for the Kennedy family was in any way offensive,” she said. “I certainly had no intention of that, whatsoever.”

But Time magazine reported last night that Mrs. Clinton used the Kennedy assassination as part of the same argument back in March during an interview with the magazine, which asked if she could see the long race hurting the Democratic Party in the fall.

“No, I really can’t. I think people have short memories. Primary contests used to last a lot longer,” she responded then. “We all remember the great tragedy of Bobby Kennedy being assassinated in June in L.A. My husband didn’t wrap up the nomination in 1992 until June. Having a primary contest go through June is nothing particularly unusual.”

Clinton senior policy adviser Maria Echeveste accused the press of latching onto the wrong phrase, saying on Fox News it was unfortunate pundits who are focusing on word “assassination” instead of the word “June.”

Mrs. Clinton said during the Argus-Leader interview her “opponent” wants to end the campaign before South Dakota votes, and “doesn’t seem to want to debate me.”

She said reports her campaign was talking with Mr. Obama’s team about some sort of “exit strategy” that would offer her a graceful concession and potential spot on his ticket were “flatly, completely untrue.”

“It is not anything I’m entertaining, nothing I have planned, nothing I am prepared to engage in,” she said.

Meanwhile yesterday, hoping to cull support among South Florida’s traditionally Republican Cuban-Americans, Mr. Obama told an audience of exiles from the communist island it was time for Washington to forge a “new strategy” in dealing with Cuba’s hard-line government.

“Washington has been trapped in conventional thinking about Latin America and the Caribbean,” he said at a Miami event hosted by the Cuban American National Foundation. “Never in my lifetime have the people of Cuba known true freedom.”

He promised if elected to lift restrictions on travel and remittances to friends and family in Cuba implemented by the Bush administration in 2004, and addressed recent criticism of his proposed Cuba policy by presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain.

Mr. Obama said his rival had inaccurately characterized him as being potentially soft on the communist government led by Raul Castro and willing to overlook its spotty human rights record.

“Senator McCain said that I would meet with Raul Castro and invite him over for tea,” said. Mr. Obama. “That is not what I said.”

Mr. Obama did agree in a July 2007 debate he “would” meet without preconditions leaders from rogue nations such as Cuba and Iran.

Critics of Mr. Obama’s Cuba policy contend it lacks perspective on the decades of suffering by the Cuban people at the hands of Fidel Castro and now his brother Raul, who assumed authority in July 2006.

McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds accused Mr. Obama of “trying to re-write his record,” but the Republican’s own Cuban policy is not without its share of rewrites over the years.

During his first presidential bid in 2000, Mr. McCain said he favored ending the embargo if Cuba released its political prisoners. But campaigning in Miami this week he said Cuba must first hold free and fair elections.

Carmen Gentile contributed to this report from Miami.

HILLARY’S WORDS

Here is a transcript of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s mention of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination during an interview with the South Dakota Argus-Leader’s editorial board.

HRC: People have been trying to push me out of this ever since Iowa.

Q: Why?

HRC: I don’t know. I don’t know. I find it curious. Because it is unprecedented in history. I don”t understand it. Between my opponent and his camp, and some in the media there has been this urgency to end this. And historically, that makes no sense. So I find it a bit of a mystery.

Q: So you don’t buy the party unity argument?

HRC: I don”t because again I’ve been around long enough. My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right?

We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California. I don”t understand it. There’s lots of speculation about why it is.

Q: What is your speculation?

HRC: I don’t know. I find it curious. And I don’t want to attribute motives or strategies to people because I don’t really know, but it’s a historical curiosity to me.

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