Clinton weighs in on Obama pastor flap

Hillary Clinton Wednesday branded rhetoric by Barack Obama's former pastor "outrageous" as her Democratic foe battled back from his latest campaign crisis with two vital end-game primaries looming, the AFP reported.

Clinton made her most expansive comments yet on the latest uproar sparked by the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, as she and Obama geared up for crucial White House nominating contests in North Carolina and Indiana on Tuesday.

"Well, I take offense," Clinton said when asked about Wright's comments in an interview with Fox News Channel.

"I think it's offensive and outrageous. I'm going to express my opinion, others can express theirs," Clinton said in excerpts of the interview published on the Fox website.

Wright once claimed AIDS was a racist government plot and suggested after the September 11 attacks in 2001 that black citizens sing "God Damn America" to protest their treatment by whites.

In a clip aired on interviewer Bill O'Reilly's radio program, Clinton gently tweaked Obama by saying he had "finally" done what he had to do by casting Wright loose, in a press conference on Tuesday.

Though Obama leads in nominating contests, elected delegates and all-important fundraising, Clinton appears to be closing on Obama in Indiana and North Carolina after her campaign-saving win in Pennsylvania last week.

"This race isn't decided yet, no matter what the Obama campaign would like you to think," Clinton said in a fundraising message to supporters.

The New York senator needs to capitalize on Obama's recent struggles, as she tries to convince "superdelegates" -- Democratic political leaders who effectively hold the nomination in their hands -- that Obama is unelectable.

A Howey-Gauge poll in Indiana released Tuesday had Obama up by just 47 to 45 percentage points. She trailed by 15 points in the same poll in February.

In North Carolina, Obama led the RealClearPolitics average by 10 points, but a Survey USA poll Tuesday had him up by only five.

Clinton Wednesday drove to a gas station with a sheet metal worker from South Bend, Indiana, to highlight high gas prices and Obama's opposition to her idea for a tax holiday on gasoline.

Obama says the plan is simply a Washington "gimmick" which would only save drivers about 28 dollars over six months, and parried Clinton's attacks with a new campaign ad.

"That's typical of how Washington works. There's a problem, everybody's upset about gas prices -- let's find some short-term, quick-fix, that we can say we did something even though, even though we're not really doing anything," he said in the ad.

With many Democrats fearing the divisive race between Obama and Clinton could harm their chances of beating Republican presumptive nominee John McCain in November, Clinton also called for unity.

She said it would be the "height of political foolishness" for Democrats angered that their favorite did not win the nomination to back McCain.

"Anyone, anyone who voted for either of us should be absolutely committed to voting for the other," Clinton told the Indianapolis Star.

"I'm going to shout that from the mountaintops and the valleys, and everywhere I can, no matter what the outcome of the nominating process is."

Media commentators meanwhile assessed how deeply Wright's latest fiery comments had damaged the Obama campaign, after the Illinois Senator sharply rejected his friend of 20 years on Tuesday.

But one superdelegate, Indiana congressman Baron Hill, said Obama had convinced him to declare his support for him, with his comments rejecting Wright on Tuesday.

"One of the tests of a true leader is his ability and willingness to come to a new conclusion based on new events," Hill said.

Obama said on Tuesday he was "outraged" by Wright's comments after the pastor launched a weekend media tour.

"I have known Reverend Wright for almost 20 years," he said of the man who conducted his marriage and baptized his two daughters, as he spoke to reporters in Winston Salem, North Carolina.

Neither Clinton nor Obama can now reach the 2,025 pledged delegates threshold to claim the Democratic nomination outright in nine remaining nominating contests.

So the fate of the party's presidential pick to take on McCain lies in the hands of the nearly 800 superdelegates who can vote how they like at the party's convention in Denver, Colorado, in August.

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