ABC News’ Sunlen Miller Reports: During a speech Monday at the Associated Press’ annual luncheon, Sen. Barack Obama held firm to the sentiment of his now controversial "bitter" remarks, but for the first time said they "may have been a mistake."
Obama opened up with a joke before the press heavy crowd, "I kept a lot of you guys busy this weekend with the comments I made last week. Some of you might even be a little bitter about that."
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At a private fundraiser last week the Illinois senator said economic problems had led voters in some small towns to become "bitter" and "cling to guns or religion" – remarks that have sparked controversy and intense rebukes from Obama’s opponents Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. John McCain.
Obama said he regrets the words he chose saying it may have been a mistake, “partly because the way that these remarks have been interpreted have offended some people and partly because they have served as one more distraction from the critical debate that we must have in this election season.”
The senator did not back away from the sentiment of the message yet again defending himself, “contrary to what my poor word choices may have implied or my opponents may have suggested, I’ve never believed that these traditions or peoples’ faith has anything to do with how much money they have. But I will never walk away from the larger point that I was trying to make and made in the past.”
Obama criticized McCain, who just hours before had stood on the same stage.
"Senator McCain and the Republicans in Washington are already looking ahead to the fall and have decided that they plan on using my comments to argue that I’m out of touch with what’s going on in the lives of working Americans," Obama said.
"I don’t blame them for this — that’s the nature of our political culture, and if I had to carry the banner for eight years of George Bush’s failures, I’d be looking for something else to talk about too.”
The first question asked of Obama during the question and answer session was if is possible for a Democrat to talk about guns, gods and immigration without getting in trouble.
"I actually think it’s possible and not only is it possible, but it’s necessary,” Obama responded.
The most intriguing question of the day, which made Obama furl his nose toward the questioner, was if he believes that Clinton should step aside in the nomination contest.
“I suspect that she will have a response for that tomorrow,” Obama quipped back, as his Democratic opponent is slated to appear before the group on Tuesday morning.
Obama then gave Clinton a backhanded compliment for staying in the race. “This has been a hard fought contest partly because Sen. Clinton has been a formidable candidate. You know there aren’t very many figure in American politics that can sustain eleven straight losses and hang into a race, and raise $35 million dollars and in that sense she’s unique.”
Obama said that comparatively, McCain being the presumed Republican nominee, has an advantage, while the Democrats battle it out.
“The fact that our contest is still going on means that John McCain comes in here, he’s feeling pretty good. You know, I suspect he’s getting more sleep than either Sen Clinton or myself are getting. And he can be a little more deliberate and pace himself and that probably explains the close in the polls,” Obama said of the national polls which show McCain’s numbers improving.
Obama said his frontrunner standing in the contest has allowed him to remain, in his eyes, more above the fray than Clinton – and said that her criticisms have made him tougher.
"I have tried to figure out how to show restraint and make sure that during this primary contest without damaging each other so badly that its hard for us to run in November. Obviously its a little easier for me to say that since I lead in delegates, in states, and in popular vote," Obama said. "Sen. Clinton may not feel that she can afford to be as constrained but I’m sure that Senator Clinton feels like she’s doing me a great favor because she’s been deploying most of the arguments that the Republican party will be using against me in November and so it’s toughening me up.”