Hillary tries to win back black voters

Hillary Rodham Clinton and her campaign tried to mend ties to black voters Thursday when a key supporter apologized to her chief rival, Barack Obama, for comments that hinted at Obama’s drug use as a teenager. The candidate herself, meanwhile, praised the Rev. Martin Luther King and promised to assist with the rebirth of this troubled, largely black city.

Bob Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television, apologized for comments he made at a Clinton campaign rally in South Carolina on Sunday that hinted at Obama’s use of drugs as a teenager. Obama is running to be the first black president.

Johnson initially denied he was talking about Obama’s drug use, saying he was referring to the Illinois senator’s days as a community organizer.

Johnson backed away from that explanation Thursday, two days after Hillary Clinton said during a nationally televised debate that she considered his comments “out of bounds.”

“In my zeal to support Senator Clinton, I made some very inappropriate remarks for which I am truly sorry,” Johnson said in a written statement. “I hope that you will accept this apology. Good luck on the campaign trail.”

Johnson’s comments and remarks by both Clintons before the New Hampshire primary last week had alarmed several black leaders and drew a rebuke from Obama and his top aides.

It began when Hillary Clinton gave an interview in which she seemed to discount King’s role in the civil rights movement. Later, former President Clinton cast aspects of Obama’s candidacy as a “fairy tale.”

Obama and Clinton later called a truce in the controversy, and Clinton offered another olive branch Thursday when asked whether she would consider choosing Obama as her vice presidential running mate.

“I can’t think that far ahead because it’s bad luck, I’m very superstitious, and I don’t want to be presumptuous,” she said. “But he is an extraordinary man and has so much to give our country. I hope however this works out he will be a major figure in American politics for years and years to come.”

Johnson’s apology and Clinton’s visit to Compton was her latest effort to reconnect with the black community after she and Obama engaged in a bitter exchange of words over the issue of race.

In Compton, Clinton praised King and promised to assist with this city’s rebirth.

“‘Those who say it can’t be done are usually interrupted by those who are doing it,'” she said during an appearance at a church, quoting noted black novelist James Baldwin.

Clinton pledged to help Mayor Eric Perrodin with his goal of “birthing” a new Compton, which has struggled with crime and poverty.

“I know something about birthing,” Clinton said. “You need a president who will be a partner. Who says, ‘What is it I can do to make sure this birth is easy and successful?'”

Among other things, the New York senator said she would open opportunities for young black men in the so-called “green collar” jobs program she has said she’ll create to help develop alternative sources of energy. She also pledged to commit $200 million over five years to help ex-offenders transition from prison.

“A lot of our young people, disproportionately young people of color, are in our prison system and they don’t belong there. They are nonviolent offenders,” she said to applause. “I believe strongly that when someone has served his or her time — her debt or his debt to society — then they ought to have the slate wiped clean.”

It was the first of several campaign stops for Clinton in California, which holds its primary on “Mega Tuesday,” Feb. 5. She was set to hold voter roundtables on the economy later Thursday in Northridge and Santa Barbara.

The campaign also began airing its first ad in California on Thursday, a spot called “Voice” that first aired in Nevada this week. Obama already has been airing ads on San Francisco television stations.

Clinton planned a final day of campaigning Friday in Nevada, which holds presidential precinct caucuses Saturday.