WASHINGTON — Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton apologized Friday after she mentioned the assassination of Sen. Robert Kennedy while defending her decision to remain in the race against Sen. Barack Obama.
In a taped meeting with the editorial board of the Argus-Leader newspaper in Sioux Falls, S.D., Clinton said: "My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California."
Clinton's comment brought a swift rebuke from the Obama campaign. Obama, who's likely to be the first African-American to be a major party's presidential nominee, was given Secret Service protection early in the campaign season because of concerns for his safety.
"Senator Clinton's statement before the Argus-Leader editorial board was unfortunate and has no place in this campaign," Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton said.
Clinton tried to extinguish a potential firestorm by issuing a statement trying to explain what she meant.
"I was discussing the Democratic primary history and in the course of that discussion mentioned the campaigns that both my husband and Senator Kennedy waged in California in June 1992 and 1968, and I was referencing those to make the point that we have had nomination primary contests that go into June," Clinton said in a written statement.
"That's a historic fact. The Kennedys have been much on my mind the last days because of Senator Kennedy and I regret that if my referencing that moment of trauma for the entire nation, and particularly for the family was in any way offensive. I certainly had no intention of that, whatsoever."
"My view is that we have to look to the past and to our leaders who have inspired us and give us a lot to live up to, and I'm honored to hold Senator Kennedy's seat in the United States Senate from the state of New York and have the highest regard for the entire Kennedy family," she added.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., who endured the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and President John F. Kennedy and is recuperating after being diagnosed this week with a malignant brain tumor, had nothing to say about Clinton's remarks. His own 1980 effort to unseat incumbent president Jimmy Carter also lasted until June, but Clinton instead cited his brother's assassination.
"We're not commenting." a Kennedy spokeswoman said.
Few elected officials commented on Clinton's remarks, but House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., the highest-ranking black official in Congress, called Clinton's RFK remarks "beyond the pale."
But Friday's comments left some political analysts gasping.
"Oh my God, this is unbelievable," said Larry Sabato, the director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics. "This is completely inappropriate. I don't think you ever want to put in a crazy person's head that idea. Of course she doesn't want him (Obama) assassinated. But a candidate shouldn't ever talk about the possibility of physical violence being visited upon an opponent."
Friday's comment was the latest verbal gaffe that Clinton's campaign has had to walk back. In April, during the New Hampshire primary, Clinton's campaign angered many African-Americans with remarks about how Martin Luther King provided the rhetorical inspiration for the civil rights movement but it took President Lyndon Johnson to make King's dream law.
Earlier this month, Clinton raised eyebrows when she spoke to USA Today about Obama's weakness among "working, hard-working Americans, white Americans."
To see a video of Clinton's interview with the Sioux Falls Argus-Leader editorial board, go to: