HORMIGUEROS, Puerto Rico (AP) — Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton yesterday offered a spiritual defense for continuing her presidential campaign, as she sought to put to rest the uproar over her comments about the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy.
Speaking to a full congregation at the Pabellon de la Victoria evangelical church, Mrs. Clinton spoke in measured terms about religious faith in the face of adversity.
“There isn’t anything we cannot do together if we seek God’s blessing and if we stay committed and are not deterred by the setbacks that often fall in every life,” she said.
Mrs. Clinton is campaigning for Puerto Rico’s primary June 1, which offers 55 pledged delegates to the national Democratic convention. The senator from New York is expected to win the contest, thanks partly to her ties to the large Puerto Rican community in that state.
The former first lady spoke of her determination to stay in the race despite trailing Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois by nearly 200 delegates, with 2,026 needed to win the party’s nomination. Mr. Obama was about 50 delegates short of the number needed to clinch — and Mrs. Clinton says she will keep going until one of them does.
“If I had listened to those who had been talking over the last several months, we would not be having this campaign in Puerto Rico today,” she said, alluding to calls during the past few months for her to drop out of the race and support Mr. Obama.
“But I believe this is an opportunity unlike any in recent history for the needs and interests and diversity of the people of Puerto Rico to be in the spotlight. This is an opportunity to educate everyone about this wonderful place,” Mrs. Clinton said.
In an op-ed piece in yesterday’s New York Daily News, Mrs. Clinton revisited her reference to the June 1968 assassination of Robert F. Kennedy during a meeting Friday with a South Dakota newspaper’s editorial board when she was asked whether she would stay in the presidential race. Mrs. Clinton’s comments were sharply criticized, and she later said she regretted any offense she might have caused.
“I was making the simple point that given our history, the length of this year’s primary contest is nothing unusual,” Mrs. Clinton wrote. “But I was deeply dismayed and disturbed that my comment would be construed in a way that flies in the face of everything I stand for — and for everything I am fighting for in this election.”
Yesterday, top advisers to both campaigns said they were moving on from the issue.
“This issue is done,” Obama strategist David Axelrod declared on ABC’s “This Week.”
Mrs. Clinton was spending the Memorial Day weekend campaigning in Puerto Rico, and may return before the primary. Mr. Obama campaigned in Puerto Rico on Saturday, but he returned to the mainland to give a commencement address yesterday at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn.
Mr. Obama urged the graduates to “make us believe again” by dedicating themselves to public service.
“We may disagree as Americans on certain issues and positions, but I believe we can be unified in service to a greater good. I intend to make it a cause of my presidency, and I believe with all my heart that this generation is ready and eager and up to the challenge,” he said.
The likely nominee filled in for Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, the longtime Massachusetts senator who had planned to deliver the graduation address to a class that includes his stepdaughter, Caroline Raclin. He backed out after being diagnosed last week with a cancerous brain tumor.