SCRANTON, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton toured a working-class neighborhood on Sunday to stress her blue-collar background and kept up the attack on rival Barack Obama’s remarks about small-town voters.
With the next major Democratic vote nine days away in Pennsylvania, Clinton walked through a section of Scranton, where she spent some time as a child and near where her father is buried, to show that she connected with the middle-class voter.
But it was Obama’s week-old comments saying economic problems led many bitter and frustrated voters in small towns to “cling” to their guns and religion that still roiled the political agenda and Sunday talk shows.
“Senator Obama has not owned up to what he said and taken accountability for it,” said Clinton, who has called the remarks elitist and divisive. “What people are looking for is an explanation.”
The furor could threaten Obama’s chances in Pennsylvania, which votes on April 22 to help pick a Democratic candidate to run against Republican John McCain in November’s presidential election.
“This is about how people look at the Democratic Party and the Democratic Party leadership,” Clinton said. “We have been working very hard to make it clear we have millions of Democrats who are church going and gun owning and we are tired of having Republicans or frankly our own Democrats give any ammunition to Republicans.
“What happens then is that Republicans take advantage of the situation,” said the New York senator, who has campaigned as the most electable Democrat in November.
The two Democratic candidates were to appear at a forum on faith and values near Harrisburg later on Sunday and the recent comments were certain to be part of the dialogue.
Obama, the Illinois senator who would be the first black U.S. president, had been closing the gap in the polls in the state and was cutting into the large lead that Clinton once held.
He leads her in pledged delegates won in state contests but neither is likely to reach the 2,024 needed for nomination without support of the nearly 800 superdelegates.
Obama said on Saturday that he was sorry if his remarks offended anyone and his supporters said he would weather the flap. One of those, Democratic Sen. Bob Casey, said on CNN’s “Late Edition” that Obama would still win the state because the voters would not “judge him by one statement.”
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, a Clinton backer, would not proclaim a win for her but said Obama’s comments were damaging to his campaign.
“I’m certainly saddened to hear those kinds of comments,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.” “I’ve lived in Philadelphia and, of course, Pennsylvania for almost 51 years. They don’t represent the thoughts of people throughout this great commonwealth.”
McCain, the Arizona senator who has sewed up the Republican presidential nomination, was off the political trail on Sunday but his campaign has been blasting Obama since his remarks became public on Friday.
The potential for a vicious Republican attack on Obama in the fall campaign was emphasized by the Clinton camp as an indication that Obama would be an easy target and unelectable.
“This could be the kind of political issue that Karl Rove and the Republicans use to beat us over the head with, and that would be a tragic thing,” Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana, a Clinton supporter, said on CNN referring to the man who ran President George W. Bush’s two campaigns.
How much staying power the controversy has was difficult to immediately gauge. In nearly two years of a topsy-turvy campaign, issues and incidents have came and gone with great frequency and whether this one would play a role in the Pennsylvania vote was unknown.
For example, a spot check in the small town of Mechanicsburg showed no big outcry from voters.
“I’m not upset about it,” said Richard Morrison, 61, a lawyer who said was leaning Democratic. “I heard what he was trying to say. It is an unfair way to broadly characterize a state. But there is a sense of bitterness out there.”
On the day Clinton returned to Scranton to stress her concern for working-class families, the Scranton Times Tribune endorsed Obama as the best able to lead the nation.
The editorial board noted Clinton’s “deep Scranton roots” but also called her “a political lightning rod” and said Obama had the ability to build consensus.
(Additional reporting by Caren Bohan and Ed Stoddard; Writing by David Wiessler; Editing by Bill Trott)
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