Saturday, January 9, 2010

WASHINGTON (AP) — The top Democrat in the U.S. Senate apologized on Saturday for comments he made about Barack Obama’s race during the 2008 presidential bid which are quoted in a yet-to-be-released book about the campaign.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada described in private then-Sen. Obama as “light skinned” and “with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.” Obama is the nation’s first African-American president.

“I deeply regret using such a poor choice of words. I sincerely apologize for offending any and all Americans, especially African-Americans for my improper comments,” Reid said in a statement released after the excerpts were first reported on the Web site of The Atlantic magazine.

RELATED STORY: Top Democrat defends Reid

“I was a proud and enthusiastic supporter of Barack Obama during the campaign and have worked as hard as I can to advance President Obama’s legislative agenda.”

Reid remained neutral during the bitter Democratic primary campaign that became a marathon contest between Obama and then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, whom Obama tapped as Secretary of State after the election.

Reid’s comments are included in the book, obtained Saturday by The Associated Press and set to be published on Monday. “Game Change” was written by Time Magazine’s Mark Halperin and New York magazine’s John Heilemann.

The book also says Reid urged Obama to run, perceiving the first-term senator’s impatience.

“You’re not going to go anyplace here,” Reid told Obama of the Senate. “I know that you don’t like it, doing what you’re doing.”

In another section, aides to Republican nominee Sen. John McCain described the difficulties they faced with their vice presidential pick, then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Steve Schmidt, a senior member of McCain’s campaign team, is quoted telling Palin’s foreign policy tutors: “You guys have a lot of work to do. She doesn’t know anything.”

The authors also quote Obama’s initial reaction to McCain’s selection of a little-known governor: “Wow. Well, I guess she’s change.”

Vice presidential nominee Joe Biden was direct. “Who’s Sarah Palin?” the book quotes the then-senator as asking as they left the nominating convention in Denver.

Reid, facing a tough 2010 re-election bid, needs the White House’s help if he wants to keep his seat. Obama’s administration has dispatched officials on dozens of trips to buoy his bid and Obama has raised money for his campaign.

Recognizing the threat, Reid’s apologies also played to his home state: “Moreover, throughout my career, from efforts to integrate the Las Vegas strip and the gaming industry to opposing radical judges and promoting diversity in the Senate, I have worked hard to advance issues.”

Even before his ill-considered remarks were reported, a new survey released Saturday by the Las Vegas Review Journal showed Reid continuing to earn poor polling numbers. In the poll, by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, Reid trailed former state Republican party chairwoman Sue Lowden by 10 percentage points, 50 percent to 40 percent, and also lagging behind two other opponents.

More than half of Nevadans had an unfavorable opinion of Reid. Just 33 percent of respondents held a favorable opinion.

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