From NBC/NJ's Aswini Anburajan
TERRE HAUTE, IN -- Last night, Obama tried to douse water on a potential political firestorm, after comments he made about voters in Pennsylvania being "bitter" drew strong criticisms from both Clinton and McCain.
At a closed fundraiser this past Sunday, Obama told the crowd that Pennsylvania voters were "bitter" because little had been done by both the Clinton and Bush Administrations to stem the loss of manufacturing jobs and improve the economy in small and economically depressed communities throughout the state. Those comments drew quick responses from his rivals who said that the comments reeked of condescension
Last night here, Obama responded with an impassioned justification, trying to rhetorically turn the word controversy into to his own advantage. "I was in San Francisco talking to a group at a fundraiser," he said. "And somebody asked me, 'Well, how are you gonna get votes in Pennsylvania? What's going on there? We hear that it's hard for some working-class people to get behind your campaign. Why is that?' I said, 'Well, look, they're frustrated. And for good reason, because for the last 25 years, they've seen jobs shipped overseas, they've seen their economies collapse. They have lost their jobs, they've lost their pensions. They've lost their health care. And for 25, 30 years, Democrats and Republicans have come before them and said we're going to make your community better. We're gonna make it right. And nothing ever happens.'"
"And of course they're bitter. Of course they're frustrated. You would be too -- in fact, many of you are. Because the same thing has happened here in Indiana, same thing happened across the border in Decatur, the same thing has happened across the country. Nobody's looking out for you. Nobody is thinking about you," he said to applause.
He repeated his comments that people turn to wedge issues to vote, but couched it in terms of his argument that it was Washington's fault. "So people end up, they don't vote on economic because they don't expect anybody's going to help them. Some people end up, you know, voting on issues like guns, are they gonna have the right to bear arms. They vote on issues like gay marriage. They take refuge in their faith and their families and the things they can count on. But they don't believe they can count on Washington."
Clinton campaign spokesman Phil Singer responded by saying that instead of taking an opportunity to apologize for his comments, Obama chose to embrace them. It's unfortunate that Sen. Obama didn't say he was sorry for what he said. Americans are tired of a President who looks down on them -- they want a President who will stand up for them for a change. The Americans who live in small towns are optimistic, hardworking and resilient. They deserve a president who will respect them."
McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds also pounced on Obama's remarks. "Only an elitist who attributes religious faith and gun ownership to bitterness would think that tax cuts for the rich include families who make $75,000 per year. Only an elitist would say that people vote their values only out of frustration. Barack Obama thinks he knows your hopes and fears better than you do. You can't be more out of touch than that."
Obama was anything but contrite in his response, and he used it as an opportunity to label both McCain and Clinton as out of touch. "Here's what's rich," Obama said of Clinton's and McCain's attacks. "Sen. Clinton says, 'Well I don't think people are bitter in Pennsylvania. I think Barack's being condescending.' John McCain says, 'Oh, how could he say that? How could he say people are bitter. He's obviously out of touch with people.' Out of touch? Out of touch? I mean, John McCain, it took him three tries to finally figure out that the home foreclosure crisis was a problem, and to come up with a plan for it, and he's saying I'm out of touch?"
Obama returned to an old line of attack for Clinton, hitting her on her vote for the bankruptcy bill, which he claimed "made it harder for people to get out of debt after taking money from the financial services companies.
"And she says I'm out of touch?" he asked the crowd.