By Donna Smith
Note: Geraldine Ferraro left the Clinton campaign after this article was written.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Geraldine Ferraro, the only woman to run on a major U.S. partyâ€™s presidential ticket, on Wednesday defended her comment that Barack Obama was ahead in the race for the Democratic nomination because he is black.
Ferraro, a Democrat who ran for vice president in 1984 and now supports Obamaâ€™s rival Hillary Clinton, rejected what she called attempts by Obamaâ€™s campaign to paint her remark as racist.
Obama, who has built up a strong lead in the state-by-state contest, dismissed the idea that his being black was an advantage and said Ferraro was being intentionally divisive.
Ferraro told CBSâ€™s â€œThe Early Showâ€ she thought Obama had been able to mount a strong campaign against Clinton because his was a â€œhistoric candidacyâ€ that excited the country, as her candidacy did in 1984.
â€œFor his campaign to take that and spin it and attack Hillary and me as being racist, I tell you, it is just appalling,â€ said Ferraro, who is on Clintonâ€™s finance committee.
â€œMy comments have been taken so out of context and have been spun by the Obama campaign as racist that itâ€™s doing precisely what they donâ€™t want done — itâ€™s going to the Democratic Party and dividing us even more,â€ Ferraro said in another interview on ABCâ€™s â€œGood Morning America.â€
Ferraro ignited the flap when she told a California newspaper that â€œif Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position.â€
â€œAnd if he was a woman he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept,â€ she said.
Ferraro told ABC she was â€œabsolutely notâ€ sorry for what she said and that the media had not fully reported her comments. She said she had fought discrimination for 40 years, â€œnot only in gender, but race, disability, the elderly.â€
Clinton, a senator from New York and wife of former President Bill Clinton who would be the first woman to become U.S. president, rejected Ferraroâ€™s published remarks on Tuesday but her campaign did not break its ties with her.
Obamaâ€™s campaign, which fired an adviser who called Clinton a â€œmonster,â€ urged the former first lady to break with Ferraro to send a message about the negative tone of the campaign.
â€˜Slice and Diceâ€™
Asked about Ferraroâ€™s remarks, Obama told ABC that being an â€œAfrican American man named Barack Obamaâ€ was not the quickest path to becoming U.S. president. If nominated and then elected, Obama would be the first black U.S. president.
â€œAnybody who knows the history of this country I think would not take too seriously the notion that this has been a huge advantage, but I donâ€™t think itâ€™s disadvantaged either,â€ Obama said.
Obama, who has run as a candidate who will change the tone in Washington and work to bring people together, told NBCâ€™s â€œTodayâ€ show that Ferraroâ€™s remarks were an attempt to divide people.
â€œPart of what Geraldine Ferraro is doing, and I respect the fact that she was a trailblazer, is to participate in the kind of slice and dice politics thatâ€™s about race and about gender and about this and that and thatâ€™s what Americans are tired of because they recognize that when we divide ourselves in that way, we canâ€™t solve problems,â€ he said.
Ferraro, a former U.S. representative from New York, and her presidential running mate Walter Mondale lost in 1984 in a landslide to Republican Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, the current presidentâ€™s father.
Obama won a Mississippi nominating contest on Tuesday with heavy support from black voters and extended his lead over Clinton in pledged delegates to the August convention which will nominate the partyâ€™s candidate for the November election.
The Illinois senator also won on Saturday in Wyoming. Both contenders are now concentrating their campaigns on Pennsylvania, which votes on April 22.
(Editing by David Storey)
(For more about the U.S. political campaign, visit Reuters â€œTales from the Trail: 2008â€ online at http://blogs.reuters.com/trail08/)