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African-American leader flays Bill Clinton's remarks on Obama

April 25, 2008 15:17 IST

A prominent Democrat African-American leader has sharply criticised some of Bill Clinton's remarks against presidential hopeful Barack Obama, which could have an adverse effect on his wife Hillary Clinton's campaign to rope in African-American voters.

In an interview with the New York Times, the third ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives James E Clyburn described the former president's remarks as "bizarre" conduct and said African-American people were incensed over the comments.

Clinton was widely criticised by African-American leaders after he equated the eventual victory of Obama in South Carolina in January to that of the Rev Jesse Jackson in 1988 -- a parallel that many took as an attempt to diminish Obama's success in the campaign.

In a radio interview in Philadelphia on Monday, Clinton defended his remarks and said the Obama campaign had "played the race card on me" by making an issue of those comments.

In the interview with the Times late on Monday, Clyburn said Clinton's conduct in this campaign had caused what might be an irreparable breach between the former president and an African-American constituency that once revered him.

"When he was going through his impeachment problems, it was the African-American community that bellied up to the bar," Clyburn said.

"I think African-Americans feel strongly that this is a strange way for President Clinton to show his appreciation," Clyburn added.

Clyburn said that there appeared to be an almost "unanimous" view among African-Americans that Mr and Mrs Clinton were "committed to doing everything they possibly can to damage Obama to a point that he could never win."

The African-American leader was heavily courted by both campaigns before South Carolina's primary in January.

But he stayed neutral, and continues to, vowing that he would not say or do anything that might influence the outcome of the race, the Times said.

He said he remained officially uncommitted as a super delegate and had no immediate plans to endorse either candidate.

At one point before the South Carolina primary, the Times said, Clyburn had publicly urged Bill Clinton to "chill a little bit."

Asked on Thursday whether the former president heeded his advice, Clyburn said: "Yeah, for three or four weeks or so. Or maybe three or four days."

A Clinton campaign spokesman, Jay Carson, declined to specifically address Clyburn's statements, the Times said.

"Look, President Clinton has an impeccable record on race, civil rights and issues that matter to the African-American community, the strongest of any president in our time," Carson was quoted as saying.

He added that in making his radio remarks on Monday, the former president was "simply reacting to a deeply offensive accusation that runs counter to principles he's held and worked for his entire life."

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