March 12, 2008 — -- After making racially-charged comments about Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., former vice presidential Democratic nominee Geraldine Ferraro stepped down Wednesday as a surrogate and member of the finance committee for the presidential campaign of Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y.
"She made the decision that she wants to continue talking about this and didn't want to do this in a way that would cause the campaign problems," a Clinton campaign source told ABC News.
The source insisted that the campaign did not ask Ferraro to leave.
That does not mean, however, that the Clinton campaign had not asked her to shut up.
Wednesday evening, speaking before the National Newspapers Publishers Association, Clinton distanced herself from the comments with stronger language than she had yet used, saying, "I said yesterday that I rejected what she said and I certainly do repudiate it. I regret deeply that it was said obviously she doesn't speak for the campaign, she doesn't speak for any of my positions. And she has resigned from being a member of my very large finance committee."
Ferraro caused the Clinton campaign embarrassment and controversy after telling a California newspaper that if Clinton's rival, Obama, "was a white man, he would not be in this position. 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."
Instead of backing down, Ferraro took to the airwaves to insist there was nothing offensive or wrong about what she'd said, keeping a story alive that fed into a narrative in which quotes from various Clinton campaign surrogates were used to portray the Clinton campaign as race-baiting.
While refraining from calling the comments "racist," Obama, Wednesday, accused Ferraro of conducting "slice and dice" politics.
"I think that her comments were ridiculous. I think they were wrong-headed," he said. "The notion that it is a great advantage to me to be an African-American named Barack Obama and pursue the presidency, I think, is not a view that has been commonly shared by the general public."
Obama's campaign, however, called for the Clinton campaign to fire her.
After speaking to Ann Lewis, a senior adviser to the campaign, Ferraro, 72, Wednesday sent an e-mail to Clinton, saying:
"Dear Hillary —
"I am stepping down from your finance committee so I can speak for myself and you can continue to speak for yourself about what is at stake in this campaign. The Obama campaign is attacking me to hurt you. I won't let that happen. Thank you for everything you have done and continue to do to make this a better world for my children and grandchildren. You have my deep admiration and respect.
Ferraro, the previous Honorary New York Leadership Council chair for the Clinton campaign, had pledged to continue raising money for Clinton, even if she were to leave the campaign.
Ferraro could not be immediately reached by ABC News for comment. Just this morning, she stood by her controversial comments suggesting Obama wouldn't be succeeding in the Democratic nomination battle if he weren't black.
"I am sorry that people think this was a racist comment," Ferraro said in an interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer on "Good Morning America" Wednesday.
At the time, she declined to apologize directly for the firestorm she created with her comments.
Ferraro, the 1984 Democratic vice presidential candidate, told Sawyer she was "absolutely not" sorry for what she'd said, suggesting she had tried to pay Obama a compliment.
Ferraro explained she was saying that "the black community came out with ... pride in [Obama's] candidacy. You would think he would say 'thank you' for doing that. Instead, I'm charged with being a racist."
Ferraro told "GMA" she was drawing a comparison to her own history, contending that if she had not been a woman, Walter Mondale would not have chosen her as his running mate in 1984 — a point she also made in the newspaper interview.
Obama also appeared on "GMA," fresh from his victory in Tuesday's Mississippi primary. Today he declined to say whether he believed Ferraro should be fired.
"I'll leave that to the Clinton campaign," he said, but added when people associated with his campaign have made objectionable comments, they were fired.
Obama scoffed at the notion that being black "is a huge advantage" for him. "The quickest path to the presidency [is not] I want to be an African-American man named Barack Obama," he said.
A fundraiser and outspoken supporter for Clinton, Ferraro was the first woman chosen by a major political party to be its vice presidential candidate.
In an interview Tuesday with ABC News affiliate WHTM, Clinton 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 rein 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 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 Sen. Clinton's, either."
Ferraro, a 72-year-old lawyer and former congresswoman, told a California newspaper that this campaign has been "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."
Ferraro's controversial comments made news less than a week after Obama's 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 Sen. 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 on "60 Minutes" that rumors of Obama being 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 that 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 used when she urged Obama to denounce and reject anti-Semitic comments by Nation of Islam head Louis Farrakhan.
"With Sen. 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 Sen. 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 is currently a lobbyist in New York with Blank Rome Government Relations.
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 ... 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.
"Anytime 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?"
In recent days the Obama campaign has pounced extraordinarily hard on Ferraro's comment about Obama, suggesting it was indicative of Clinton's "kitchen sink" strategy.
ABC News' Jennifer Parker, Olivia Sterns, Eloise Harper, Steven Portnoy, Sunlen Miller and David Wright contributed reporting.