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Democrats push on after clashes

Times Staff Writer

Illinois Sen. Barack Obama on Saturday lamented the rhetorical skirmishes that have recently turned the Democratic presidential campaign into a contest over race and gender.

“The forces of division have started to raise their ugly heads again,” he said at a town hall meeting at a high school in Plainfield, Ind.

Obama did not name his rival, New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, or mention the recent string of barbs traded between the two campaigns. “I’m not here to cast blame or point fingers,” he said.

In the last week, Obama distanced himself from his longtime pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, over statements of Wright’s including that Clinton, as a woman of privilege in a country run by whites, could never understand blacks.

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During the same week, Clinton accepted the resignation of former New York Rep. Geraldine Ferraro as a fundraiser, after Ferraro said she believed Obama would never had advanced so far in the presidential race if he had not been African American.

“We’ve got a tragic history when it comes to race in this country,” Obama said, citing “pent-up anger and mistrust and bitterness.” But, he added, “I continue to believe that this country wants to move beyond these kinds of things.”

Noting his own ethnic background -- his mother was white and his father black -- Obama said: “As somebody who was born into a diverse family, as somebody who has little pieces of America all in me, I will not allow us to lose this moment.”

As the crowd rose shouting, “Yes we can, yes we can,” Obama said that it was important to speak up against inflammatory words like those of Wright, but equally important to come together.

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“It is within our power to join together, to truly make a United States of America,” he said. “That’s the only way that we’re going to deliver on the big issues we’re facing in this country. We cannot solve healthcare divided. We cannot create an economy that works for everybody divided. We cannot fight terrorism divided. We cannot care for our veterans divided. We have to come together.”

Clinton spent the day campaigning in Pennsylvania -- which holds its primary April 22 -- marching in St. Patrick’s Day parades in Pittsburgh and Scranton. In Pittsburgh, she marched for two miles on streets lined with voters, some bearing signs that said “Clinton Country,” others saying “O’Bama.”

Wearing a green scarf bearing the slogan of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Clinton told the crowd, “May the luck of the Irish be with us all.”

Meeting with voters, Clinton derided President Bush’s response to the mounting economic crisis. “Too little, too late is not an economic strategy, but that seems to be the best that President Bush can offer,” she said, adding that she has a better record on energy independence and other economic issues than either Obama or the presumptive Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona. “Look past their words and examine their deeds,” she said, noting that both had supported the administration’s energy plan. “There’s a better way to go.”

Clinton also threw her support behind a new plan being negotiated among Michigan Democrats to hold a do-over primary in June.

“It needs to get resolved, and hopefully Michigan by the end of this week will have done that,” Clinton told reporters on her campaign plane between stops in Pennsylvania. “I think they are moving in an appropriate direction to have a revote.”

Michigan and Florida ran afoul of rules set by the Democratic National Committee when they held their primaries in January rather than in March.

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johanna.neuman@latimes.com


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