Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is trying to defuse attacks against him over remarks he made characterizing some working-class voters as "bitter" over economic issues. Both his rival, Hillary Clinton, and the presumptive Republican nominee, John McCain, have blasted Obama for being out of touch with the working class. That voting block is critical in the upcoming Democratic primaries in Pennsylvania and Indiana.
The trouble started Friday when The Huffington Post Web site posted Obama's comments from a San Francisco fundraiser earlier this week. The Illinois senator was talking about the difficulty his campaign faces wooing working-class voters in Pennsylvania and Indiana. Obama explained that such voters fell through the economic cracks during the Bush and Clinton administrations and that they are angry because of job losses dating back 25 years.
"It's not surprising then they get bitter," he said. "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."
Clinton's camp lashed out at Obama, declaring that Pennsylvanians don't need a president who looks down on them. She continued her pointed criticism in Indianapolis on Saturday morning.
"I was taken aback by the demeaning remarks Sen. Obama made about people in small-town America," she said. "Sen. Obama's remarks are elitist and they are out of touch. They are not reflective of the values and beliefs of Americans. Certainly not the Americans that I know."
McCain's campaign also leaped to the attack, suggesting that the Harvard-educated attorney showed a "breathtaking" elitism and condescension toward hard-working Americans.
Obama is rejecting his opponents' charges that he is out of touch. He told a town hall meeting in Indiana on Saturday that the political flare-up was "typical."
"I said something everybody knows is true," he said, "which is there are a whole bunch of folks in small towns in Pennsylvania — in towns right here in Indiana, in my hometown in Illinois — who are bitter. They are angry. They feel like they've been left behind."
But Obama did concede that he could have phrased his thoughts better. Pundits are already speculating about the fallout from this dust-up — at a time when Obama is hoping to solidify his quest for the Democratic nomination with respectable showings in Pennsylvania and Indiana.