GRANTHAM, Pa. – Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton asserted Sunday night that Sen. Barack Obama, through his recent description of sentiments in small-town America, reinforced a stereotype of “out-of-touch” Democrats that doomed the party’s last two presidential nominees.
“We had two very good men – and men of faith – run for president in 2000 and 2004. But large segments of the electorate concluded that they did not really understand or relate to, or frankly respect, their ways of life,” Clinton said at Messiah College, referring to former Vice President Al Gore and Sen. John Kerry, of Massachusetts. She repeated her view that Obama had been “elitist … and frankly patronizing.”
Her remarks came in a nationally televised forum on religious and moral values, held at the private Christian school just outside of Harrisburg.
Obama had already fielded two days of such criticism from Clinton, after he told San Francisco Democrats last week about working-class voters in small towns, “It’s not surprising that they get bitter. They cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment.”
And it was clear Sunday that Obama had heard enough. He fired back in a union hall in Steelton, Pa., saying he expected such an attack from Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the presumptive Republican nominee, but not from a fellow Democrat.
“She knows better. Shame on her. Shame on her,” Obama said. “She is running around talking about how this is an insult to sportsmen, how she values the Second Amendment. She’s talking like she’s Annie Oakley,” invoking the famed Wild West sharpshooter.
“Hillary Clinton is out there like she’s on the duck blind every Sunday,” he continued. “She’s packing a six-shooter. Come on, she knows better. That’s some politics being played by Hillary Clinton.”
Obama suggested Saturday that he had phrased his comments clumsily.
The uproar threatened to overshadow the Democrats’ participation in Sunday night’s forum, which was organized by the nonpartisan group Faith in Public Life. The two candidates sat separately for more than 30 minutes each of questions from journalists and religious leaders. McCain was invited but declined to take part.
Clinton declined repeatedly to describe her personal faith and how it informed specific decisions, citing “the way I was raised” and implying that she keeps such matters to herself. Asked why there is suffering, if there is a God, she said, “I can’t wait to ask him. I have just pondered it endlessly.”
Earlier, while campaigning in Scranton, Pa., Clinton hammered Obama in comments that seemed targeted at uncommitted Democratic superdelegates.
“His comments were elitist and divisive, and the Democratic Party has been unfortunately viewed by many people over the last decade as being elitist and out of touch. We have waged elections over that,” Clinton said at a news conference.
Her campaign hastily arranged for her to go door to door for 30 minutes in Scranton, in northeast Pennsylvania. It was her third campaign trip there in the past month, and she has never forgotten to remind voters that her father grew up in Scranton.
Clinton seemed frustrated when a reporter turned the issue toward her, asking when she had last attended church or fired a gun.
“That is not a relevant question for this debate,” Clinton said.