WASHINGTON Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama on Thursday said he had grown up in less privileged circumstances than his rivals as he fought a perception among some voters that he is "elitist."
In an interview on NBC's "Today Show," Obama sought to explain a series of missteps that have dogged his candidacy over the past month and led some voters to conclude that he is out of touch.
"The irony is, I think it is fair to say that both Michelle and I grew up in much less privileged circumstances than either of my two potential opponents," Obama said in an interview with his wife, Michelle, at his side.
Obama's Kenyan father was largely absent from his life as a child, and his mother raised him with the help of his grandparents.
His rival for the Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton, grew up in an affluent suburb of Chicago as the daughter of a small-business owner. The Republican candidate for the November presidential election, John McCain, is the son and grandson of Navy admirals.
Obama's front-runner status for the Democratic nomination has eroded in recent weeks amid a firestorm over racially charged remarks by his former pastor and his own comments at a San Francisco fund-raiser that small-town voters are "bitter" and "cling" to guns and religion.
"The comments I made in San Francisco at the end of a very long day were very poorly phrased," Obama said. "I should have said 'angry and frustrated' instead of 'bitter.' I should have said, people 'rely on' their religious faith during these times of trouble, instead of 'cling to.'"
Obama said he did not immediately denounce his former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, when his incendiary comments were first made public because of his personal ties to the man who presided over his marriage and the baptism of his two children.
"I thought it was important to give him the benefit of the doubt because if I had wanted to be politically expedient I would have distanced myself and denounced him right away," Obama said.
Obama said the criticism is inevitable, given his international background and status as the first black who has a good chance of winning the White House.
"Let's be honest, here I am an African American named Barack Obama who's running for president. I mean, that's a leap for folks," he said.
(Editing by Jackie Frank)
(To read more about the U.S. political campaign, visit Reuters "Tales from the Trail: 2008" online at blogs.reuters.com/trail08/)