While campaigning in Puerto Rico yesterday, Barack Obama seemed inclined to excuse Hillary Clinton's remark about the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy as a simple misstep.
"I have learned that when you are campaigning for as many months as Senator Clinton and I have been campaigning, sometimes you get careless in terms of the statements that you make, and I think that is what happened here. Senator Clinton says that she did not intend any offense by it, and I will take her at her word on that," Obama told Radio Isla Puerto Rico.
Clinton made reference Friday to the June 1968 assassination of Kennedy as she attempted to explain her reasons for remaining in the race. The comment, made to the Argus Leader in Sioux Falls, S.D., struck some who heard it as a veiled reference to Obama.
The senator from New York, who holds the seat once held by Kennedy, told the newspaper she didn't understand why, given the history of primaries, some Democrats were calling for her to quit.
"My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California. You know I just, I don't understand it."
After the fury unleashed by her remark, Clinton said she regretted any offense she might have caused.
She got an important vote of support from Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who said he had heard her make similar statements in the past. "I understand how highly charged the atmosphere is, but I think it is a mistake for people to take offense," said Kennedy, who had previously endorsed Clinton for president.
"Now, let me be clear: No one can dispute John McCain's love for this country or his concern for veterans. But here's what I don't understand. I don't understand why John McCain would side with George Bush and oppose our plan to make college more affordable for our veterans," the Democratic presidential candidate said in Puerto Rico. "George Bush and John McCain may think our plan is too generous. I could not disagree more."
Obama's criticism renews a clash that turned personal after the Senate approved the scholarship bill Thursday.
During the Senate debate, the Illinois senator questioned why McCain - a Navy veteran and former prisoner of war - would oppose the measure.
McCain responded with a sharp statement saying that he wouldn't listen to any lectures on veterans' affairs from Obama, "who did not feel it was his responsibility to serve our country in uniform."
The Arizona senator opposes the scholarship measure, as does the Pentagon, because it applies to people who serve just three years. He fears that would encourage people to leave the military after only one enlistment even as the United States fights two wars and is trying to increase the size of the Army and Marine Corps.
Instead, McCain and Republican colleagues proposed a bill to increase benefits in conjunction with a veteran's length of service. Senate Democrats blocked that measure.
"While Barack Obama engages in the same tired partisan politics that has failed our veterans time and again, John McCain has offered legislation that will expand needed education benefits for veterans while promoting retention in our armed forces," McCain spokesman Brian Rogers responded yesterday to Obama's remarks.
Only three primaries are left in the battle for the Democratic nomination, and Puerto Rico is holding one of them. Puerto Ricans can vote in party primaries but not in the fall general election.