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Obama's Farrakhan answer gives Clinton an opening

February 26, 2008 |  8:19 pm

When you've debated as often as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have, it's hard to find fresh material to spar over. But -- who knew? -- Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan provided such fodder Tuesday night. And the result may have been some crucial points scored by Clinton in their face-off in Ohio.

Obama said he denounced and rejected support from Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan

At the least, Obama appeared to dance around how far he should distance himself from the unsolicited backing he received over the weekend from Farrakhan until Clinton cornered him. At that point, he both denounced AND rejected that support.

Obama had been asked a straightforward question by moderator Tim Russert: Did he accept Farrakhan's support.

The following exchange occurred:

Obama: "You know, I have been very clear in my denunciation of Minister Farrakhan's anti-Semitic comments. I think they are unacceptable and reprehensible. I did not solicit this support. He expressed pride in an African American who seems to be bringing the country together. I obviously can't censor him, but it is not support that I sought. And we're not doing anything, I assure you, formally or informally with Minister Farrakhan.

Russert: "Do you reject his support?"

Obama: "Well, Tim, I can't say to somebody that he can't say that he thinks I'm a good guy."

True enough, but probably ...

not the answer most Jewish Americans wanted to hear. As a result, Obama risked creating the perception for some that he might be somewhat reluctant to completely throw overboard a controversial leader who is not without some stroke within the black community (witness the 1995 Million Man March).

Clinton clearly saw it that way, and sought to put Obama on the spot. She interjected that, during her initial Senate run in 2000, she was endorsed by a splinter party in New York that "was under the control of people who were anti-Semitic, anti-Israel. And I made it very clear that I did not want their support. I rejected it. ... And there's a difference between denouncing and rejecting."

Obama responded: "I have to say I don't see a difference between denouncing and rejecting."

He needs to check a dictionary on that.

Then he decided to yield the point: "But if the word 'reject' Sen. Clinton feels is stronger than the word 'denounce,' then I'm happy to concede the point, and I would reject and denounce."

He could have saved himself some potential grief if he had been less circular arriving at that point.

-- Don Frederick

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