Barack Obama said Saturday that he accepted rival Hillary Rodham Clinton's explanation that she made an innocent gaffe in citing the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy in June 1968 as a justification for continuing her longshot bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Clinton mentioned that campaign in responding to a question Friday from the Sioux Falls Argus Leader editorial board in South Dakota about calls for her to drop out of the race against Obama. Her remarks caused an uproar, and she apologized within hours she issued a statement saying she regretted "if my referencing that . . . was in any way offensive."
Obama, campaigning in Puerto Rico, said he accepted her explanation.
"I have learned that when you are campaigning for as many months as Sen. 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," Obama said in an interview with Radio Isla Puerto Rico. "Sen. Clinton says that she did not intend any offense by it, and I will take her at her word on that."
Clinton's remark touched a raw nerve, particularly since anxiety over Obama's safety has been a mostly unspoken concern of many of his supporters, as well as party leaders.
Clinton brought up Kennedy's assassination as she sought to explain to the South Dakota newspaper why she was continuing her candidacy.
"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," Clinton told the paper.
The statement she issued said she was simply making a historical reference to nominations that were not resolved until late in the election season.
"The Kennedys have been much on my mind the last days because of Sen. Kennedy," she added, referring to Sen. Edward Kennedy's recent diagnosis of a brain tumor. "I regret that if my referencing that moment of trauma for our entire nation and in particular the Kennedy family was in any way offensive. I certainly had no intention of that, whatsoever."
Both Obama and Clinton spent the first day of the Memorial Day holiday weekend campaigning in Puerto Rico, which holds its Democratic primary on June 1. Clinton is heavily favored to win the primary, in which 63 delegates are at stake.
Obama led a traditional parade through the Spanish colonial historic area of Old San Juan as a music truck played reggaeton and salsa campaign songs, a staple of Puerto Rican politics.
Obama avoided taking sides in the long-standing debate over whether the island should become a state, retain its commonwealth status or seek independence. He said the decision should be left to the territory's residents, a stand also taken by Clinton.
"I want to make sure that here in Puerto Rico the people of Puerto Rico are able to decide on the status of the island, and make sure that they are able to create the kind of government that they want," Obama said, drawing cheers.
Obama, who spent 18 hours on the island, met with political officials and participated in a round table with local veterans. He is not scheduled to make a return visit before the primary.
Clinton held a town meeting in Aguadilla and planned to remain today for stops in Ponce and San Juan.