'You Get Careless': Obama Blames Clinton RFK Quip on Stress of Long Campaign

Obama says he accepts Clinton explanation of controversial comment.

May 24, 2008 — -- Sen. Barack Obama gives Hillary Clinton the benefit of the doubt that she had no hidden meaning when she invoked the assassination of Bobby Kennedy as an explanation for remaining in the Democratic presidential race.

"I have learned that when you are campaigning for as many months as Sen. Clinton and I have been campaigning," he told the Puerto Rico radio station Isla, "sometimes you get careless in terms of the statements that you make. And I think that is what happened here.

"Sen. Clinton says that she did not intend any offense by it," he added, "and I would take her at her word on that."

Clinton's remarks to the editorial board at the Argus Leader in South Dakota Friday struck some nerves partly because it came in the wake of Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy's health problems and because of longstanding concerns about Obama's security.

"People have been trying to push me out of this ever since Iowa," Clinton said Friday. "I find it curious because it is unprecedented in history. I don't understand it.

"You know, my husband didn't wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary sometime in the middle of June. Right?" she added later in the conversation. "We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California. You know, I just-- I don't understand it."

The remarks initially prompted a less-gracious response from the Obama campaign Friday. Campaign spokesman Bill Burton said the remarks were "unfortunate."

Clinton soon apologized, saying she meant no offense.

She was backed up by a supporter, Robert Kennedy, Jr. who said in a statement: "It is clear from the context that Hillary was invoking a familiar political circumstance in order to support her decision to stay in the race through June."

Today, the Rev. Al Sharpton talked to Clinton about her remarks and gave her the benefit of the doubt.

"I don't believe that anyone is dumb enough to suggest that something happen to Sen. Obama," Sharpton said.

But ABC News political analyst Matthew Dowd, former chief strategist for George Bush's 2004 campaign, told ABC News Radio that Clinton's remark was a huge political misstep.

"This, to me, is one of the worst gaffes in the course of this campaign," he said. "It's going to hurt her, and I think it's gonna really hurt her with a lot of her supporters that are gonna basically say, 'Come on, enough's enough; it's time to go in this race.'

"If there were any conversations [about Clinton as an Obama running mate], or if there were any plans for conversations," Dowd added, "my guess is that's gonna be put way on hold. If I were the Obama folks, I'd be seriously concerned about having her on a ticket with just the kind of things she says."

Today, as Clinton campaigned in Puerto Rico, she moved on to other subjects.

Obama also spent his day campaigning in Puerto Rico, where he held a rally at La Plaza del Quinto Centenario in advance of next Sunday's primary.

"If we do well in Puerto Rico," he told the cheering crowd, "there's no reason I won't be announcing I'm the Democratic nominee for president."

Obama added that he thought his campaign was "on the brink of winning the Democratic nomination."