ABC News' Sunlen Miller and Eloise Harper report: Barack Obama, D-Ill., went further than he has before in admitting that he did not express himself as well as he could have in his initial comments at a San Francisco fundraiser this week about “bitter”small-town Pennsylvania voters.
“I didn’t say it was well as I could have,” Obama confessed today during a town hall in Muncie, Ind., in response to the controversy he described as a “political flare-up because I said something that everyone knows is true.”
He then launched into a broad explanation of what he was trying to express: “There are a whole bunch of folks in small towns in Pennsylvania, in towns right here in Indiana, in my home town in Illinois, who are bitter. They are angry… So I said, well ya know, when you’re bitter, you turn to what you can count on. So people, ya know they vote about guns or they take comfort from their faith, and their family, and their community, and they get mad about illegal immigrants who are coming over to this country, or they get frustrated about how things are changing. That’s a natural response.”
But these traditions that get passed on from generation to generation are important, he said.
“People don’t feel like they're being listened to," Obama said. "And so they pray and they count on each other and they count on their families. You know this in your own lives. And what we need is a government that is actually paying attention, a government that is actually fighting for working people day in and day out, making sure that we are trying to allow them to live out the American dream.”
Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., speaking in Indianapolis this morning, was quick to pounce on her opponent again for his remarks about people in small-town America.
“Sen. Obama’s remarks are elitist, and they’re out of touch. They are not reflective of the values and beliefs of Americans. Certainly not the Americans I know, not the Americas I grew up with, not the Americans I lived with in Arkansas or represent in New York,” Clinton said at a factory that makes machinery for the military.
Clinton began her speech saying that she too was from a small town, appealing to this audience and others in states she needs to win.
“You know I'm the granddaughter of a factory worker my grandfather went to work at the age of 11, before the child labor laws. He worked in the lace mills in Scranton, Pa. He worked until he retired [at age] 65 mostly six-day work weeks. [He had] very long hours, but it was good work, it was work that gave him a chance to raise his three sons. I grew up in the Midwest, born in Chicago, raised outside of that great city, and I was raised with Midwestern values and an unshakeable faith in America and its promise.”
“Small Town,” by John Mellencamp, blasted through the speakers at the Allison Transmission plant before Clinton got on the stage. The song played on repeat with the verse, “I was raised in a small town” over and over again.
Mellencamp, who endorsed former presidential candidate John Edwards, has not been played much on the campaign trail at Clinton events.
Clinton’s comments echo sentiments expressed by Sen. John McCain adviser Steve Schmidt on Friday. He called Obama's thoughts on small-town Pennsylvanians a "remarkable statement and extremely revealing … It shows an elitism and condescension towards hardworking Americans that is nothing short of breathtaking. It is hard to imagine someone running for president who is more out of touch with average Americans."
During her speech, Clinton went even further than she did on Friday, attacking Obama for his comments about people clinging to guns and religion.
She said, “You know, Americans who believe in the Second Amendment believe it’s a matter of constitutional right. Americans who believe in God believe it’s a matter of personal faith. Americans who believe in protecting good American jobs believe it’s a matter of the American dream.”
Clinton tried to hammer in the message that Obama’s comments prove he is out of touch, saying, “If we are striving to bring people together, which I believe we should be, I don’t think it helps to divide our country into one America that is enlightened and one that is not.”