By Alain Jean-Robert
Washington: Barack Obama accused Democratic foe Hillary Clinton of shameful politics, after she pounced on his remark that some Americans turned to guns and religion because they were “bitter.”
Obama counter-attacked after Clinton branded him an out of touch “elitist” over the comments, in a row which electrified the rivals’ fight for vital blue collar and rural votes at a key stage of their nomination battle
“She knows better, she knows better, shame on her, shame on her,” Obama said in a withering riposte to Clinton, in some of the most pointedly personal comments so far of their roller-coaster campaign.
The Clinton campaign siezed on Obama’s remarks, hoping they represented a lifeline for her White House hopes, as she battles to overhaul his lead in the nomination race ahead of the Pennsylvania primary on April 22.
The dispute played into Clinton’s contention that Obama cannot attract blue-collar, socially conservative voters that Democrats need in swing states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, to win the general election.
Her campaign also pushed the idea that Republicans would attack Obama as an out of touch, elitist liberal lacking the common touch, in much the same way as they did against the last two Democratic nominees Al Gore and John Kerry.
But Obama sarcastically hit back against Clinton’s claims to be a strong backer of gun rights, and said her suggestion that he did not understand why people turned to religion was inconsistent with his own Christian faith.
“She is running around talking about how this is an insult to sportsmen ... she is talking like she is Annie Oakley,” Obama said, comparing his foe to a legendary American sharpshooter.
“Hillary Clinton is out there like she’s out in a duck blind every Sunday, she is packing a six shooter -- come on she knows better,” Obama said in Steelton, Pennsylvania.
“That’s the politics being played by Hillary Clinton.”
Campaigning in Pennsylvania and Indiana at the weekend, Clinton spoke about how her father took her out and taught her how to hunt when she was a young girl.
At a forum on religion and social values on Sunday, the former first lady branded Obama as “elitist, out of touch, and frankly patronizing” over comments which he had repeatedly admitted were poorly chosen.
“You know, the Democratic Party, to be very blunt about it, has been viewed as a party that didn’t understand and respect the values and the way of life of so many of our fellow Americans,” Clinton said.
The furor erupted after Obama said at a fundraiser in liberal California last week that some voters were embittered by years of economic decline and cast their votes on social issues instead of economic ones.
“So it’s not surprising then that they get bitter, 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,” he said, according to a transcript published by Huffingtonpost.com.
Clinton has long led in the polls in Pennsylvania, largely due to support from working class voters and union members, and a respected poll by Quinnipiac University last week had her lead down to six points.
Only a big win, analysts say of at least 10 points, will inject her campaign with sufficient momentum for her to resist calls to drop out of the race, and to continue making the case that she, not Obama can win in November.
The two Democrats were set to give dueling speeches Monday to an American Manufacturers workers conference in gritty Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a center of the steelmaking industry badly hit by the flight of jobs abroad.
Then, Obama was expected to lash out at Republican presumptive presidential nominee John McCain in a speech in Washington, before heading for another indirect showdown with Clinton at a Philadelphia Democratic Party dinner.
Obama leads Clinton in pledged delegates, total nominating contests won and the popular vote going into the final stretch of the race.
But neither candidate can now reach the 2,025 pledged delegates needed to win the nomination, so the outcome hinges on the votes of nearly 800 party officials or “superdelegates” who can vote however they like at the Democratic convention in August.