02-19-2017  10:47 pm      •     

MISHAWAKA, Indiana (AP) _ A political tempest over Barack Obama's remark about bitter small-town voters who "cling to guns or religion" has given rival Hillary Rodham Clinton a new chance to court working class Democrats 10 days before Pennsylvanians hold a primary that she must win to keep her presidential campaign alive.
Obama tried to quell the furor Saturday, explaining his remarks while also conceding he had chosen his words poorly.
"If I worded things in a way that made people offended, I deeply regret that," Obama said in an interview with the Winston-Salem (North Carolina) Journal.
But the Clinton campaign fueled the controversy in every place and every way it could, hoping charges that Obama is elitist and arrogant will resonate with the swing voters the candidates are vying for not only in Pennsylvania, but in upcoming primaries in Indiana and North Carolina as well.
Political insiders differed on whether Obama's comments, which came to light Friday, would become a full-blown political disaster that could prompt party leaders to try to steer the nomination to Clinton even though Obama has more pledged delegates. Clinton supporters were eagerly hoping so.
They handed out "I'm not bitter" stickers in North Carolina, and held a conference call of Pennsylvania mayors to denounce the Illinois senator. In Indiana, Clinton did the work herself, telling plant workers in Indianapolis that Obama's comments were "elitist and out of touch."
At issue are comments he made privately at a fundraiser in San Francisco last Sunday. He was trying to explain his troubles winning over some working-class voters, saying they have become frustrated with economic conditions:
"It's not surprising, then, 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 as a way to explain their frustrations."
The comments, posted Friday on The Huffington Post Web site, set off a blast of criticism from Clinton, Republican nominee-in-waiting John McCain – who are both multi-millionaires -- and other Republican officials, and drew attention to a potential Obama weakness -- the image some have that the Harvard-trained lawyer is arrogant and aloof.
His campaign scrambled to defuse possible damage.
There has been a small "political flare-up because I said something that everybody knows is true, which is that there are a whole bunch of folks in small towns in Pennsylvania, in towns right here in Indiana, in my hometown in Illinois, who are bitter," Obama said Saturday morning at a town hall-style meeting at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. "They are angry. They feel like they have been left behind. They feel like nobody is paying attention to what they're going through.
"So I said, well you know, when you're bitter you turn to what you can count on. So people, they vote about guns, or they take comfort from their faith and their family and their community. And they get mad about illegal immigrants who are coming over to this country."
After acknowledging his previous remarks in California could have been better phrased, he added:
"The truth is that these traditions that are passed on from generation to generation, those are important. That's what sustains us. But what is absolutely true is that people don't feel like they are being listened to."
Obama sees himself at a disadvantage in the April 22 Pennsylvania primary and with an advantage in North Carolina. That means that Indiana, where polls show Clinton holding a single-digit lead, could play a pivotal role in resolving the epic Democratic nomination battle.
Clinton attacked Obama's remarks much more harshly Saturday than she had the night before, calling them "demeaning." Her aides feel Obama has given them a big opening, pulling the spotlight away from troublesome stories such as former President Bill Clinton's recent revisiting of his wife's misstatements about having been in danger in an airport landing in Bosnia 10 years ago.
Obama is trying to focus attention narrowly on his remarks, arguing there's no question that some working-class families are anxious and bitter. The Clinton campaign is parsing every word, focusing on what Obama said about religion, guns, immigration and trade.
Clinton hit all those themes in lengthy comments to manufacturing workers in Indianapolis.
"The people of faith I know don't 'cling' to religion because they're bitter. People embrace faith not because they are materially poor, but because they are spiritually rich," she said.
"I also disagree with Senator Obama's assertion that people in this country 'cling to guns' and have certain attitudes about immigration or trade simply out of frustration," Clinton added.
"People don't need a president who looks down on them," she said. "They need a president who stands up for them."
McCain's campaign piled on Obama, releasing a statement that also accused him of elitism. The former Vietnam prisoner of war has slowly moved up in matchups with each of the Democratic candidates, particularly Obama.
Clinton is counting on Pennsylvania's vote to deliver a big win over front-runner Obama and help keep her in the race. She trails her rival in delegates, the popular vote, and the number of states won.
According to the latest Associated Press tally, Obama leads Clinton in the delegate count 1,639-1,503, including superdelegates _ party elders and elected officials who can vote for whichever candidate they chose, regardless of the popular vote in state primaries and caucuses.
Neither candidate will be able to clinch the 2,025 delegates needed to win the nomination without the approval of superdelegates.

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  • WASHINGTON (AP) — One month after the inauguration, the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of Donald Trump's White House still is a hard-hat zone. Skeletal remains of the inaugural reviewing stands poke skyward. Random piles of plywood and cables are heaped on the ground inside crooked lines of metal fencing. The disarray outside the president's front door, though not his fault, serves as a metaphor for the tumult still unfolding inside. Four weeks in, the man who says he inherited "a mess" at home and abroad is presiding over a White House that is widely described as itself being a mess. At a stunning pace, Trump has riled world leaders and frustrated allies. He was dealt a bruising legal blow on one of his signature policies. He lost his national security adviser and his pick for labor secretary to scandal. He's seen forces within his government push back against his policies and leak confidential information. All of this has played out amid a steady drip of revelations about an FBI investigation into his campaign's contacts with Russian intelligence officials. Trump says his administration is running like a "fine-tuned machine." He points to the rising stock market and the devotion of his still-loyal supporters as evidence that all is well, although his job approval rating is much lower than that for prior presidents in their first weeks in office. Stung by the unrelenting criticism coming his way, Trump dismisses much of it as "fake news" delivered by "the enemy of the people" — aka the press. Daily denunciations of the media are just one of the new White House fixtures Americans are adjusting to. Most days start (and end) with presidential tweets riffing off of whatever's on TV talk shows or teasing coming events or hurling insults at the media. At some point in the day, count on Trump to cast back to the marvels of his upset of Democrat Hillary Clinton in the November election and quite possibly overstate his margins of support. Expect more denunciations of the "dishonest" press and its "fake news." From there, things can veer in unexpected directions as Trump offers up policy pronouncements or offhand remarks that leave even White House aides struggling to interpret them. The long-standing U.S. policy of seeking a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Trump this past week offered this cryptic pronouncement: "I'm looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I can live with either one." His U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, the next day insisted, "We absolutely support a two-state solution." Trump's days are busy. Outside groups troop in for "listening sessions." Foreign leaders call or come to visit. (Or, in the case of Mexico's president, cancel out in pique over Trump's talk about the planned border wall.) After the president signed two dozen executive actions, the White House was awaiting a rush order of more of the gold-plated Cross pens that Trump prefers to the chrome-plated ones used by his predecessor. Trump hands them out as souvenirs at the signing ceremonies that he points to as evidence of his ambitious pace. "This last month has represented an unprecedented degree of action on behalf of the great citizens of our country," Trump said at a Thursday news conference. "Again, I say it. There has never been a presidency that's done so much in such a short period of time." That's all music to the ears of his followers, who sent him to Washington to upend the established order and play the role of disrupter. "I can't believe there's actually a politician doing what he says he would do," says an approving Scott Hiltgen, a 66-year-old office furniture sales broker from River Falls, Wisconsin. "That never happens." Disrupt Trump has. But there may be more sound and fury than substance to many of his early actions. Trump did select Judge Neil Gorsuch to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, a nomination that has drawn strong reviews from conservatives. But the president is regrouping on immigration after federal judges blocked his order to suspend the United States' refugee program and ban visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries, which had caused chaos for travelers around the globe. Some other orders on issues such as the U.S.-Mexico border wall and former President Barack Obama's health care law are of limited effect. Trump says his early actions show he means to deliver on the promises he made during the campaign. "A lot of people say, 'Oh, oh, Trump was only kidding with the wall,'" the president told a group of police chiefs recently. "I wasn't kidding. I don't kid." But the Republican-led Congress is still waiting to see specifics on how Trump wants to proceed legislatively on top initiatives such as replacing the health care law, enacting tax cuts and revising trade deals. The messy rollout of the travel ban and tumult over the ouster of national security adviser Michael Flynn for misrepresenting his contacts with Russia are part of a broader state of disarray as different figures in Trump's White House jockey for power and leaks reveal internal discord in the machinations of the presidency. "I thought by now you'd at least hear the outlines of domestic legislation like tax cuts," says Princeton historian Julian Zelizer. "But a lot of that has slowed. Trump shouldn't mistake the fact that some of his supporters like his style with the fact that a lot of Republicans just want the policies he promised them. He has to deliver that." Put Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in the camp of those more interested in substance than style. "I'm not a great fan of daily tweets," McConnell said Friday, referring to the "extra discussion" that Trump likes to engage in. But McConnell was quick to add: "What I am a fan of is what he's been actually doing." He credits Trump with assembling a conservative Cabinet and taking steps to reduce government regulation, and promised: "We like his positions and we're going to pursue them as vigorously as we can." The challenge may be to tease out exactly what Trump wants in the way of a health care plan, tax changes and trade policy. At his long and defiant news conference on Thursday, Trump tried to dispel the impression of a White House in crisis, squarely blaming the press for keeping him from moving forward more decisively on his agenda. Pointing to his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, Trump said, "You take a look at Reince, he's working so hard just putting out fires that are fake fires. I mean, they're fake. They're not true. And isn't that a shame because he'd rather be working on health care, he'd rather be working on tax reform." For all the frustrations of his early days as president, Trump still seems tickled by the trappings of his office. When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie visited the White House last week to discuss the national opioid epidemic over lunch, the governor said Trump informed him: "Chris, you and I are going to have the meatloaf.'" Trump added: "I'm telling you, the meatloaf is fabulous." ___Follow Nancy Benac on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nbenac
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