The U.S. Senate campaign of Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill has been under sharp criticism since she accused President Bush of letting poor blacks in Louisiana die during Hurricane Katrina.
Mrs. McCaskill, the state auditor, is attempting to link Republican Sen. Jim Talent with the president as she tries to unseat the incumbent.
“George Bush let people die on rooftops in New Orleans because they were poor and because they were black,” she told a group of Democratic state legislators last week.
The comments, made as she outlined Mr. Talent’s efforts to attract minority voters, were first reported by Pub Def Weekly, a St. Louis-based blog.
“In a spirited voice, she told them that she would do everything she could to make clear to every Democratic voter that ‘George Bush has no better friend than Jim Talent,’” wrote Pub Def Weekly’s Antonio D. French.
Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, immediately called upon Mrs. McCaskill to apologize for the remarks.
“It is totally unconscionable to suggest that the Coast Guard helicopter crews who worked hours long past regulation were intentionally leaving poor, black Americans to die on their rooftops,” Mr. Frist said on his blog.
Sen. Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina, who leads the Senate Republican campaign arm, issued a similar statement: “These outrageous comments have no place in public discourse.”
But Mrs. McCaskill told KMOX radio in Missouri the statement’s context as reported by Pub Def Weekly is “not exactly correct.” She said she was acknowledging the sentiment of many Americans, and national tragedies are the time when people need government the most.
She characterized the Bush response to Katrina as “gross incompetence that turned tragic because so many of the people in New Orleans didn’t have the resources to help themselves.”
“Clearly, the Bush administration needs to accept blame for the tragedy in Katrina,” she said.
Mr. Talent has been running television ads that laud his work with Democrats and portray him as an independent thinker. They don’t mention Mr. Bush, who raised about $600,000 for Mr. Talent at a private Kansas City fundraiser Friday.
Former President Bill Clinton, meanwhile, campaigned for Mrs. McCaskill and Missouri Democrats at a weekend fundraiser in St. Louis that raised more than $1 million.
“You can vote for someone who will perpetuate the control of the narrow strip of the Republican Party that’s been running America for six years,” Mr. Clinton told attendees. “Or you can vote for someone who would be a proud successor in the Senate to Harry Truman: Claire McCaskill.”