March 11, 2008 — -- In another twist to the bitter battle for the Democratic presidential nomination, former vice-presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro, a member of Sen. Hillary Clinton's finance committee, vented her frustration with Sen. Barack Obama's campaign success in racially charged remarks.
"If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position," Ferraro told a local California newspaper last week.
"And if he was a woman (of any color) he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept," Ferraro said.
Ferraro, a fundraiser and outspoken supporter for Clinton, was Walter Mondale's 1984 Democratic vice-presidential nominee — the first woman nominated by a major political party as its candidate for vice president of the United States.
In an interview with ABC News affiliate WHTM, Clinton, D-N.Y., ignored calls from the Obama campaign to remove Ferraro from her campaign, saying, "Well, I don't agree with that and I think it's important that we try to stay focused on issues that matter to the American people."
In a relatively mild response, Clinton continued, "And both of us have had supporters and staff members who've gone over the line and we have to reign them in and try to keep this on the issues. There are big differences between us on the issues — let's stay focused on that."
Obama chided Clinton for Ferraro's comment to a local Pennsylvania newspaper.
"I don't think Geraldine Ferraro's comments have any place in our politics or in the Democratic Party," Obama told Pennsylvania's Allentown Morning Call newspaper. "They are divisive. I think anybody who understands the history of this country knows they are patently absurd. And I would expect that the same way those comments don't have a place in my campaign they shouldn't have a place in Senator Clinton's either."
Ferraro, a 72-year-old lawyer and former congresswoman, said this campaign was "very emotional" for her and suggested Clinton has been a victim of a "very sexist media."
"I think what America feels about a woman becoming president takes a very secondary place to Obama's campaign — to a kind of campaign that it would be hard for anyone to run against," Ferraro told California's Daily Breeze local paper.
"For one thing, you have the press, which has been uniquely hard on her," she said. "It's been a very sexist media. Some just don't like her. The others have gotten caught up in the Obama campaign," she said.
Ferraro's controversial comments have made news less than a week after Obama senior foreign policy adviser Samantha Power resigned from the Illinois senator's campaign for calling Clinton "a monster.''
The Obama campaign held a conference call with reporters Tuesday with Obama supporter Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., arguing that Ferraro's words "undermine" Democrats' "ability to win in November."
"It's disappointing that Clinton supporters have sought to somehow diminish Senator Obama's candidacy and his support by suggesting he's in some way being given preferential treatment because of his race," Schakowsky said. "Any and all remarks that diminish Sen. Obama's candidacy because of his race are completely out of line."
Schakowsky urged Clinton to call on all of her advisers and supporters to change the tone of the campaign.
Obama campaign manager David Axelrod added the comment was "part of an insidious pattern that needs to be addressed" within the Clinton campaign, pointing to Clinton's remark to 60 Minutes that rumors Obama is a Muslim aren't true, "as far as I know," she said.
"When you wink and nod at offensive statements, you're really sending a signal to your supporters that anything goes," Axelrod said, arguing Clinton is seen as a "divisive and polarizing force."
The Obama campaign pounced Tuesday afternoon on Clinton's mild statement about Ferraro's remark, referring to language Clinton herself used when she urged Obama to denounce and reject anti-Semitic comments by Nation of Islam head Louis Farrakhan.
"With Senator Clinton's refusal to denounce or reject Ms. Ferraro, she has once again proven that her campaign gets to live by its own rules and its own double standard, and will only decry offensive comments when it's politically advantageous to Senator Clinton," Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton said.
"Her refusal to take responsibility for her own supporter's remarks is exactly the kind of tactic that feeds the American people's cynicism about politics today and it's why Barack Obama's message of change has resonated so strongly in every corner of the country," Burton said.
Ferraro, currently a lobbyist in New York with Blank Rome Government Relations, did not return ABC News requests for comment. She is expected to appear on ABC News "Good Morning America" Wednesday.
It's not the first time a Democratic surrogate has made controversial remarks.
Obama's senior economic adviser Austan Goolsbee told Canadian diplomats the candidate's anti-NAFTA rhetoric should be interpreted as political positioning and not an articulation of policy, according to a Canadian government memo.
Obama foreign policy adviser Susan Rice was part of a mini-firestorm last week when she appeared to go off message and said that neither Obama nor Clinton is ready to answer the proverbial 3 a.m. phone call in the White House.
"Clinton hasn't had to answer the phone at three o'clock in the morning and yet she attacked Barack Obama for not being ready. They're both not ready to have that 3 a.m. phone call," Rice told MSNBC last week.
At the time, the Clinton campaign e-mailed a YouTube video of the interview to reporters.
Earlier in the campaign, Bill Shaheen, a Clinton campaign co-chairman in New Hampshire, stepped aside after making remarks about Obama's past drug use. The Clinton campaign also fired Iowa staffers who forwarded e-mails with false rumors that Obama is a Muslim.
Ferraro's comments appeared to highlight her frustration with Obama's campaign. The Illinois senator is leading Clinton in popular support and pledged delegates, according to ABC News' delegate scorecard.
In the interview with the newspaper, Ferraro also rejected the notion that Obama will bring together Republicans and Democrats.
"I was reading an article that said young Republicans are out there campaigning for Obama because they believe he's going to be able to put an end to partisanship," Ferraro said. "Dear God! Anyone that has worked in the Congress knows that for over 200 years this country has had partisanship — that's the way our country is."
In February, Ferraro made similarly racially-charged remarks on Fox News Radio's John Gibson show.
When asked about the decision of Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., to abandon his endorsement of Clinton in favor of Obama, Ferraro said: "I'm very disappointed. When I see John Lewis. He's turning around — this is a civil rights leader. Why in God's name did he change his vote from Hillary to Barack Obama? I'll tell you why. He's not going to lose a Democratic primary in his district in two years, but he sure as hell will face one if he sticks it to Barack Obama when he has a greater majority of blacks in his district. He's not going to lose. I'm so disappointed in him, I could die."
"John, between me and you and your millions of listeners, if Barack Obama were a white man, would we be talking about this as a potential real problem for Hillary Clinton? … If he were a woman of any color, would he be in this position that he's in? Absolutely not," Ferraro said.
"Geraldine, are you playing the race card?" the host asked.
"No, and that's the problem. Every time you say the truth — I'm the first person, John, and you know how honest I am — I am the first person who will say in 1984, if my name were Gerard instead of Geraldine, I would never have been picked as the vice presidential candidate."
In a follow-up interview with the local California paper that broke the story, Ferraro defended her remarks.
"Any time anybody does anything that in any way pulls this campaign down and says let's address reality and the problems we're facing in this world, you're accused of being racist, so you have to shut up," Ferraro told the Daily Breeze. "Racism works in two different directions. I really think they're attacking me because I'm white. How's that?"
ABC News' Steven Portnoy, Sunlen Miller and David Wright contributed reporting.