- The Washington Times - Monday, April 14, 2008

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, at a televised forum on faith and politics last night, said Sen. Barack Obama’s remark about “bitter” small-town voters clinging to religion and guns raised legitimate concerns about his character and that it was an appropriate campaign issue.

“The Democratic Party, to be very blunt about it, has been viewed as a party that didn’t understand and respect the values and the way of life of so many of our fellow Americans,” said Mrs. Clinton, who called Mr. Obama’s remarks at a private San Francisco fundraiser “elitist and out of touch.”

At an earlier campaign stop in Steelton, Pa., Mr. Obama rebuked Mrs. Clinton, saying, “shame on her,” because she knows he is a man of faith and that she is feigning newfound allegiance with gun owners.

“She is running around talking about how this is an insult to sportsmen, how she values the Second Amendment. She’s talking like she’s Annie Oakley,” Mr. Obama said, referring to the legendary markswoman.

Mrs. Clinton, who represents New York, said the remark still smacked of elitism.

“Someone goes to a closed-door fundraiser in San Francisco and makes comments that do seem elitist, out of touch and, frankly, patronizing,” she said on the “Compassion Forum” broadcast on CNN. “That has nothing to do with him being a good man or a man of faith.”

At the forum, Mr. Obama, of Illinois, said his remarks in San Francisco had been misinterpreted but added a biblical twist to the argument that he has been making since the comments were posted Friday on the Huffington Post Web site.

“The Scripture talks about clinging to what’s good,” Mr. Obama said. “This is something that I’ve talked about before, something I’ve talked about in my own life, which is that religion is a bulwark, a foundation when other things are not going well.

“That’s true in my own life through trials and tribulations,” he said.

The 90-minute forum at Messiah College near Harrisburg, Pa., at which the candidates appeared separately to field questions about faith and morality in public policy, punctuated the unusually prominent role religion has played in the Democratic primary race.

In the discussions led by CNN anchor Campbell Brown and Newsweek editor Jon Meacham, both candidates professed deep spiritual faith and tried to reconcile the moral implications of their pro-choice stance.

Mrs. Clinton said she believes “the potential for life begins at conception” but that women must be entrusted to decide absent government intrusion whether to have an abortion.

Mr. Obama said he has not come to a “firm resolution” on when life begins. “Is it when a cell separates? Is it when the soul stirs? So I don’t presume to know the answer to that question,” he said.

The forum aired three days before the Democrats’ debate in Philadelphia and nine days before the Pennsylvania primary.

Mrs. Clinton needs a decisive win in the state’s April 22 primary to help her stay in the race.

Mr. Obama, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, apologized Saturday for choosing his words poorly and he somewhat backed off his characterization of gun owners and churchgoers.

The furor underscored several long-perceived weaknesses about Mr. Obama — a general air of aloofness, his ties to racist sermons by the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. and an inability to connect with white working-class voters — that play into Mrs. Clinton’s argument that she is the more electable Democrat.

At the forum, Mrs. Clinton said that Democrats Al Gore and John Kerry were men of faith but that did not carry them to the White House.

“We had two very good men and men of faith run for president in 2000 and 2004,” she said. “But large segments of the electorate concluded that they did not really understand or relate to or frankly respect their ways of life.”

Mrs. Clinton said the Democrats must “make clear that we believe people are people of faith because it is part of their whole being; it is what gives them meaning in life, through good times and bad times.”

“It is there as a spur, an anchor, to center one in the storms, but also to guide one forward in the day-to-day living that is part of everyone’s journey,” she said.

Mr. Obama, who took the stage after Mrs. Clinton, quipped, “I think Al Gore won … and has done terrific things since.”

The San Francisco slip not only hurt Mr. Obama in Pennsylvania but possibly revealed a fatal campaign flaw, said political science professor G. Terry Madonna of Franklin and Marshall College and pollster Michael Young.

“Some will believe Obama’s remarks raise serious questions about his authenticity,” they wrote Sunday in their bimonthly Politically Uncorrected column.

“[The remarks] call into question whether his appeals to working-class voters have been mere contrivances, mere vote-getting activities. And even more profoundly Obama’s remarks reinforce the belief of those who say there is much more to know about the senator’s real values and real attitudes. Some will say Obama has become a candidate with feet of clay.”

The Obama campaign released a letter yesterday signed by 22 elected officials and community leaders from small towns in Pennsylvania asking voters to “set aside” the attacks by Mrs. Clinton and presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who also called the remark “elitist” and “out of touch.”

“A few days ago, Senator Obama made some comments that his opponents are now using to make him appear as if he is something he is not,” the letter said. “Instead of speaking to us honestly about how they intend to solve the problems we are facing, they are playing the same old Washington games that accomplish nothing. … The politicians who are now saying that we shouldn’t be frustrated are the ones who are out of touch.”

Mrs. Clinton, whose lead in Pennsylvania polls has slipped, kept hitting Mr. Obama’s “bitter” comment while campaigning in Scranton’s blue-collar neighborhoods.

“Senator Obama has not owned up to what he said and taken accountability for it,” she said.

Despite Mr. Obama’s “bitter” comment, he won endorsements yesterday from Pennsylvania newspapers, the Morning Call of Allentown and the Times-Tribune of Scranton.

Mr. Obama made the “bitter” remark in response to a question about why he was trailing Mrs. Clinton in Pennsylvania.

“You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing [has] replaced them,” he said. “And 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.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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