Hillary Clinton Tuesday revived the row over fiery racial rhetoric by Democratic foe Barack Obama’s former pastor, as she tried to dodge a storm over her overblown account of a 1996 trip to Bosnia.
With the White House race again consumed by bitterness, the New York Senator said she would have left the church had her pastor come out with remarks like those of Reverend Jeremiah Wright.
The Obama campaign accused her of trying to deflect from her own embarrassment, after she admitted that her claims that she dodged sniper fire during the Bosnia trip as first lady were untrue.
“I made a mistake, that happens. It proves I’m human, which, for some people, is a revelation,” Clinton said, as the controversy raged, distracting from her claims of high-level foreign policy experience.
She used that same news conference in Pennsylvania, to pointedly discuss Wright, after a week of choosing not to comment on the issue.
“I think, given all we have heard and seen, he would not have been my pastor,” Clinton said.
“We don’t have a choice when it comes to our relatives. We have a choice when it comes to our pastors and the church we attend.”
Videos emerged this month of Wright assailing US and Israeli “terrorism,” calling on African-Americans to sing “God damn America” over racial prejudice, and alleging the US government spread AIDS among the community.
The furor prompted Obama to give a landmark speech on racial reconciliation last week which appeared to quiet the storm.
But Republican commentators denounced him for refusing to disown Wright, and the drama, which some analysts say could hurt Obama with working-class white voters, looks set to be a general election issue if he wins the nomination.
Obama spokesman Bill Burton accused Clinton of bringing up the race row to cloud her own embarrassment.
“After originally refusing to play politics with this issue, it’s disappointing to see Hillary Clinton’s campaign sink to this low in a transparent effort to distract attention away from the story she made up about dodging sniper fire in Bosnia,” he said.
“The truth is, Barack Obama has already spoken out against his pastor’s offensive comments and addressed the issue of race in America with a deeply personal and uncommonly honest speech.”
The latest rows to rock the Democratic race came as Clinton campaigned hard in Pennsylvania, venue for the next nominating clash on April 22.
Her attempts to chase down front-runner Obama were complicated by the Bosnia snafu, which her rival’s aides have framed as an example of her dishonestly overstating her foreign policy experience.
“This has been a very long campaign,” a laughing Clinton said in an interview with Pittsburgh radio station KDKA. “I did misspeak the other day.”
Obama aides quickly pointed to at least four other occasions stretching back to December when she had recalled coming under fire when she landed at Tuzla airbase on March 25, 1996.
Television footage from the trip showed Clinton being greeted by smiling officials on the tarmac as she got off a US military plane.
Obama is due to bound back onto the campaign trail on Wednesday, after a short Easter break with his family in the US Virgin Islands.
Senator John McCain, who has already clinched the Republican presidential nomination, attempted to bolster his economic credentials and debunk Democratic claims he knows little about finance, with a speech on the mortgage crisis.
“Any assistance must be temporary and must not reward people who were irresponsible at the expense of those who weren’t,” McCain said, signaling reticence over large-scale government assistance to alleviate the crisis.
“I will not play election year politics with the housing crisis,” the Arizona senator told Hispanic business leaders in California.
But he also appeared to attempt to distance himself from President George W. Bush, who has been accused by Democrats of obstinately refusing to intervene to rescue the stuttering economy.
“In this crisis, as in all I may face in the future, I will not allow dogma to override common sense,” he said.
McCain late Tuesday got another boost as he strives to solidify shaky links with the right wing of his party, by securing the endorsement of Nancy Reagan, wife of late conservative hero and president Ronald Reagan.
“I believe John’s record and experience have prepared him well to be our next president,” said Reagan in a statement.