Clinton, Obama Field Questions at the Compassion Forum

Apr 13, 2008 11:00pm

ABC News’ Eloise Harper and Sunlen Miller report: The two Democratic candidates met on stage briefly in between solo segments at CNN’s Compassion Forum in Grantham, Pa.

From the body language between the opponents during their brief handshake on stage, it seemed the the events of the weekend had led to the icy reception between them.

Hillary Clinton was asked about the "shame on her" comments Barack Obama had made just a short while before the forum.

Clinton put the ball back in Obama’s court, saying he will have to explain his comments about "bitter" Pennsylvanians -– but again compared Obama to Al Gore and John Kerry.

"Well, he will have to speak for himself and provide his own explanation," she said. "But I do think it raises a lot of concerns and we’ve seen that exhibited in the last several days by people here in Pennsylvania in Indiana.

"Someone goes to a closed door fundraiser in San Francisco and makes comments that do seem elitist, out of touch, and frankly patronizing," she said. "That has nothing to do with him being a good man or a man of faith. 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 and I think that has been an issue for voters."

Clinton also said that this is a political issue being discussed.

"This is a legitimate political issue, and there are some issues and there are some issues that are not, but this one is and I do believe that Sen. Obama will have a chance to explain himself tonight and I am sure he will take that opportunity," she said.

Obama admitted his words were clumsy, but said he did not mean to demean faith and he defended his original comments, saying that "clinging" -– as he described Pennsylvanians clinging to religion -– is a good thing per the scripture.

"Scripture talks about clinging to what’s good," he said. "And so it’s very important — my words may have been clumsy, which happens surprisingly often on a presidential campaign, but this is something that I’ve talked about before, I’ve talked about in my own life, which is that religion is a bulwark, a foundation when other things aren’t going well. 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. What I was saying is that when economic hardship hits in these communities, what people have is they’ve got family, they’ve got their faith, they’ve got the traditions that have been passed onto them from generation to generation. Those aren’t bad things. That’s what they have left."

Obama said it is unfortunate in a presidential campaign that people have been trying to misconstrue his words –- and that Clinton painting him as an elitist is "a good example of what happens on the presidential campaign, is that we try to tear each other down instead of lifting the country up."

The forum was intended for a discussion on faith in front of religious members of the community.

Obama was asked about Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and Obama took issue with the way his former pastor has been portrayed amid the controversy.

"The most recent loop that’s been playing — Rev. Wright’s greatest hits, so to speak — are, I think, both a distortion of who he is and what the church has been about, but also express, you know, some comments that I think are deeply offensive and are contrary to what I believe. … And, you know, pastors are imperfect. Certainly, the membership is imperfect. I, as somebody who is sitting in the pews as a sinner, is imperfect."

Clinton laughed when she was asked at the forum if she thought God thought she should be president.

"I could be glib and say we will find out," she said. "I don’t presume anything about God, I believe Abraham Lincoln was right that in admonishing us not to act as though we knew God was on our side. In fact, our mission should be on God’s side. And I have tried to take my beliefs my faith and put it to work my entire life and it has been gratifying to view the little I’ve done to try and help other people, which is really what motivates me."

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