Barack Obama denies snubbing Hillary Clinton

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton greets Sen. Edward Kennedy, back to camera, as Sen. Barack Obama turns away before President Bush's State of the Union address in Washington.
(J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Sen. Barack Obama today sought to quell talk that he deliberately snubbed Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, his rival for the Democratic nomination for president, during Monday night’s State of the Union address.

Accompanied by Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill as he traveled to his grandfather’s birthplace of El Dorado, Kan., and then on to Missouri, Obama, the Illinois freshman senator, sought to downplay the incident, saying he was surprised by the reports and photographs showing Obama turning away when Clinton approached to shake hands with Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy.

“I was turning away because Claire asked me a question as Sen. Kennedy was reaching for her,” Obama explained to reporters aboard his campaign plane. “Sen. Clinton and I have had very cordial relations off the floor and on the floor.”


Bloggers have been speculating all day about whether Obama, sitting next to Kennedy, deliberately turned away from the New York senator when she approached. “As president, Obama has said he would meet with the U.S.’s enemies without precondition,” said the Chicago Tribune. “But making nice with Clinton apparently is another matter.”

The speculation was fueled in part by the evident increasing animosity between the two rivals for the presidency, but Obama insisted today that there was nothing to it.

“I waved to her as I was coming into the Senate chamber before we walked over last night,” he said. “I think there’s just a lot more tea-leaf reading going on here than I think people are suggesting.”

McCaskill said she had “a ringside seat” to the incident, which she described as being overblown by the media, because “everybody’s spoiling for a fight, which is the politics of old.”

Obama was asked earlier today if the Kennedy endorsement could help among certain constituencies, such as Hispanic Americans. “I have to make my case, but obviously Ted Kennedy helps me get some people to listen who might not otherwise have listened,” he said on NBC’s “Today Show.”

The Democratic National Committee, angry at Florida for moving up the date of its primary, has decreed that the delegates elected today from Florida will not be seated. But Clinton, who has argued that voters in all states deserve a voice, campaigned there today.

With 22 states holding primaries or caucuses Feb. 5, Obama looked to the Super Tuesday states while Sen. John Edwards announced that he will deliver a major policy address on poverty in New Orleans on Wednesday. Noting the “sniping and personal attacks between the two front-runner candidates,” Edwards, without mentioning Obama or Clinton by name, said he wanted to refocus national attention on poverty.

And former President Bill Clinton, criticized by some Democrats for his negative comments about Obama, campaigned today in New Jersey, another Feb. 5 state, avoiding further controversy.

At Camden County College, Clinton said that his wife, Hillary, was “a proven change agent.” Detailing her life history in working with children, the former president said his wife “was always making changes in other peoples’ lives.”

Arguing that he would be campaigning for her even if they’d never married, Clinton said, “She will handle whatever happens and still keep her commitments to you ... not just to make history but to build the future.”