Senate leader Reid apologizes to Obama for racial remarks

McClatchy NewspapersJanuary 9, 2010 

WASHINGTON _ Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., apologized Saturday for newly revealed racial remarks he made about Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign, comments that could hurt his re-election hopes.

Reid referred to Obama, then a fellow senator, in private talks as "light-skinned" and speaking "with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one," according to a new book on the campaign by journalists Mark Halperin and John Heilemann.

"I deeply regret using such a poor choice of words," Reid said in a statement. "I sincerely apologize for offending any and all Americans, especially African-Americans, for my improper comments."

Reid apologized to Obama in a telephone call Saturday afternoon.

"I accepted Harry's apology without question because I've known him for years, I've seen the passionate leadership he's shown on issues of social justice and I know what's in his heart," Obama said in a written statement. "As far as I am concerned, the book is closed."

Obama also quickly forgave then-Sen. Joe Biden in 2007, after Biden referred to him in racial terms as both men launched their quests for the Democratic presidential nomination.

"I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy," Biden said.

He also apologized, and Obama later chose him as his running mate.

Obama's forgiveness was a secondary issue, however, as one of the nation's top Democrats fights to keep his seat as voters back home have soured on him.

Reid already is in danger of losing his bid for re-election in Nevada, which would make him the second Democratic Senate leader voted out of office after former Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota lost his re-election bid in 2002.

A new poll for the Las Vegas Review-Journal released Saturday found that more than half of the state's voters are unhappy with him, raising anew questions about whether he might decide to retire rather than lose.

The poll also showed Reid trailing any of three possible Republican rivals.

"It's the worst 'unfavorable' rating he's received in the newspaper's surveys for this year's election," Laura Myers wrote in the paper. "And it comes amid quiet speculation _ or perhaps wishful thinking by his opponents _ that it's time for the Nevada Democrat to retire rather than lose re-election."

The 70-year-old Reid ruled out dropping his bid for another term, as veteran Democratic Sens. Chris Dodd of Connecticut and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota have done.

"I am absolutely running for re-election," Reid said in a statement to the Las Vegas newspaper.

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