From NBC/NJ's Athena Jones
The Clinton campaign sought to make it clear Wednesday that it did not agree with comments Geraldine Ferraro, a supporter and a former vice presidential candidate, has made to the effect that Obama would not be where he is today if he were not a black man.
"Let me make clear that we were completely unaware of Mrs. Ferraro's remarks, prior to their being made." Communications Director Howard Wolfson said on a conference call with reporters in response to a question about whether this sort of thing might be a campaign tactic. "We did nothing in any way to encourage them. When Sen. Clinton spoke to them, she made clear that she disagreed with them and that she, in fact, rejected them and, look, as she said, there are supporters in both campaigns who have said things that the candidates disagreed with, that the candidates have rejected.
"It's important when that happens to make clear the disagreement, which we did immediately, and I think it is incumbent upon all of us to focus on the issues that matter most to the American people."
When questioned about why the campaign hadn't taken a more aggressive approach to dealing with Ferraro, who is on the campaign's finance committee, but is not a paid staffer, Wolfson said different situations led to different responses and used the opportunity to instead talk about instances in which Obama supporters had said controversial things.
"Each campaign has taken a different response when confronted with different issues," Wolfson said. "I would remind everyone at the start of this campaign when David Geffen made comments that many found objectionable, Sen. Obama said he disagreed with them, but said there was no reason to remove him from the campaign and he remains a campaign fundraiser.
"When (Gen.) Merrill McPeak made comments that many found disagreeable, the Obama campaign did not remove him from their campaign. So each circumstance is different.
"Geraldine Ferraro is not an advisor. She's not a member of the staff, and we have made clear that we reject her comments, that we disagree with her comments. She was not speaking on behalf of the campaign and in the interviews that she was engaged in today she is not speaking on behalf of the campaign, and I think she was making that clear."
Brig. Gen. John Watkins, Jr., who noted that he is African-American, also spoke up to say he lamented Ferraro's comments and did not believe the Clintons were racists, noting the former president's efforts to be inclusive in his administration.
"There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that she [Hillary Clinton] is the farthest thing from being a racist," Watkins said. "I can say that categorically, having worked with she and her husband to put some key African-Americans in their administration, their first administration and watched those people blossom throughout."
Wolfson said Clinton had shown renewed strength among some Republicans and Independents in Ohio, Texas and Mississippi because of the increased focus on whether Obama was ready to lead "on Day One," and he rejected the idea as "laughable" that any of these voters would vote for the senator for tactical reasons, for instance because they think she would be easier to beat in the general election.
The conference call, led by the campaign's National Security Advisor Lee Feinstein, was held to talk up Clinton's readiness to be commander in chief. This is a subject the campaign has been pushing hard for several days now and several of the call's participants have participated in other calls or meetings to express their views on the senator's ability to lead.
The bulk of the 50-minute discussion yielded no news, involving instead mostly repetition of many of the same arguments made recently about why these military officers support the Clinton, including what they called her understanding of the challenges presented by Afghanistan, her world vision and her strength as a leader.
The other members of the military on the call were Vice Admiral Joseph A. Sestak -- who is also a congressman from Pennsylvania, Maj. Gen.Paul Eaton, Rear Admiral David Stone and and Fmr. Sec of the Navy John Dalton. They are part of a group of 31 flag and military officers who are supporting her, said Feinstein.
Sestak called Clinton "one strong woman" and hailed what he called her vision and her understanding of how deliberate the redeployment of troops from Iraq would have to be.
Eaton said the former first lady was "brave" and was "graceful under fire" and understood the dynamics of soft power.
"With two sons in the Army, I want her steady in the saddle as commander in chief for my family members," he said. "She understands the dynamics of soft power, how to move diplomatic power, economic power, to help" deal with conflicts in places like Afghanistan and Iraq."
Stone cited her work on behalf of veterans and her courage in talking about women's rights as human rights in her 1995 Beijing speech. He also talked about the need for more support from NATO in waging the war on terror in Afghanistan. Watkins called her "a very strong, smart, caring and very deliberative person" who knows how to work across the aisle. Dalton said Clinton had done her homework on Afghanistan and reminisced about having observed Clinton interacting with sailors on several occasions. He said she cared about what was important to them.
Several brought up Clinton's service on the Senate Armed Services Committee and both Eaton and Stone brought up Obama's lack of hearings with relation to NATO in Afghanistan on a subcommittee he chairs, suggesting he failed to lead when given a the chance to make a difference.