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 Clinton told reporters later her intention had been to make a historical reference and said the Kennedy family has been on her mind lately.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