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'OUT-OF-TOUCH' DEMOCRATS

Obama Reinforcing Stereotypes, Clinton Asserts

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton greets backers in Grantham, Pa., where she participated in a forum on religious and moral values. She said Democratic candidates have been hurt by voters' perceptions that they were out of touch.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton greets backers in Grantham, Pa., where she participated in a forum on religious and moral values. She said Democratic candidates have been hurt by voters' perceptions that they were out of touch. (By Mike Mergen -- Bloomberg News)

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By Shailagh Murray and Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, April 14, 2008

GRANTHAM, Pa., April 13 -- Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) asserted Sunday night that Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), through his recent description of sentiments in small-town America, reinforced a stereotype of "out-of-touch" Democrats that doomed the party's past two presidential nominees.

"We had two very good men, and men of faith, run for president in 2000 and 2004. But large segments of the electorate concluded that they did not really understand or relate to or frankly respect their ways of life," Clinton said at Messiah College, referring to former vice president Al Gore and Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.). She repeated her view that Obama had been "elitist . . . and, frankly, patronizing."

Her remarks came in a nationally televised forum on religious and moral values, which brought Clinton and her rival to the private Christian school just outside of Harrisburg. The discussion represented a remarkable departure from the Democrats' increasingly harsh tone of campaign rhetoric. Both candidates dropped biblical references and spoke of policy issues such as energy and health care in the context of their Christian faith.

Obama was questioned at the start of his session about his reference to religion in his small-town remarks -- perhaps the most controversial word he uttered. Describing the Pennsylvania political landscape at a private fundraiser last Sunday in San Francisco, Obama told of how people "cling" to such issues as religion and guns when they become disillusioned by hard economic times and by politicians who promise much but deliver little.

Speaking in a measured tone, Obama stressed that the reference was meant as positive and noted his experience as a community organizer with Chicago churches, assisting workers of a steel plant that had just closed.

"Religion is a bulwark, a foundation when other things aren't going well," Obama said. "That's true in my own life, through trials and tribulations. And so what I was referring to was in no way demeaning a faith that I, myself, embrace."

The forum offered a reprieve for Obama after two days of relentless pounding from Clinton since his comments in San Francisco surfaced. "It's not surprising that they get bitter," Obama then told donors. "They cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment."

Obama has suggested that he phrased his comments clumsily, and earlier Sunday, it was clear that he had heard enough from Clinton. Speaking to a working-class crowd at a union hall in Steelton, Pa., shortly before the forum, he said he expected such an attack from Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the presumptive Republican nominee, but not from a fellow Democrat.

"Shame on her. She knows better," Obama said of Clinton. He mocked his rival for recalling her childhood hunting experiences on the campaign trail earlier in the day. "She is running around talking about how this is an insult to sportsman, how she values the Second Amendment. She's talking like she's Annie Oakley," Obama said, invoking the famed Wild West sharpshooter.

"Hillary Clinton is out there like she's on the duck blind every Sunday," he continued, laughing. "She's packing a six-shooter. Come on, she knows better. That's some politics being played by Hillary Clinton."

Earlier in the day, Clinton seemed frustrated when a reporter asked when she had last attended church or fired a gun.

"That is not a relevant question for this debate," Clinton said. "We can answer that some other time. I went to church on Easter, so . . . but that is not what this is about."


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