TERRE HAUTE, Ind. -- Sen. Barack Obama was criticized yesterday by his two fellow presidential candidates for statements he made recently at a San Francisco fundraiser that could be viewed as derogatory toward rural America.
"You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania, and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them," Obama said Sunday, according to the Huffington Post Web site.
"And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not," Obama reportedly continued. "It's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."
Obama does not allow reporters into fundraisers held at private residences, so the remarks were not reported at the time.
The comments could fuel suggestions that Obama can be arrogant. They began circulating on the Internet yesterday and drew rapid responses from Sen. Hillary Clinton, his rival for the Democratic nomination, and Sen. John McCain, the likely Republican nominee.
"It's a remarkable statement and extremely revealing," McCain adviser Steve Schmidt said in a statement. "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."
Clinton, campaigning in Pennsylvania, also suggested that Obama sounded like an elitist.
"Pennsylvanians don't need a president who looks down on them," she said. "They need a president who stands up for them, who fights for them, who works hard for your futures, your jobs, your families."
Responding during an evening event here, Obama said he was simply answering a question about why he has sometimes struggled to win over working-class voters.
"I said, well look, they're frustrated and for good reason because for the last 25 years, they've seen jobs shipped overseas, they've seen their economies collapse, they have lost their jobs, they've lost their pensions, they've lost their health care," he said. "Of course they're bitter. Of course they're frustrated."
Obama said working-class voters then sometimes end up voting on issues like guns and gay marriage.
"Here's what's rich: Senator Clinton says, 'Well, I don't think people are bitter in Pennsylvania. You know, I think Barack is being condescending.' John McCain says, 'Oh, how can he say that? How can he say people are bitter? He obviously is out of touch with people.' Out of touch? Out of touch?" Obama said, raising his voice. "I'm mean, John McCain, it took him three tries to finally figure out that the home foreclosure crisis was a problem and to come up with a plan for it, and he's saying I'm out of touch?"
John McCormick writes for the Chicago Tribune.