Clinton Kennedy Assassination Reference: Raises Bobby's Death To Explain Why She Stays In Race (VIDEO)

05/31/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • The Huffington Post

The New York Times summed up what they are calling one of the worst days of Hillary Clinton's political career:

Her campaign, as everyone knows, was already struggling. But on Friday, she made a reference to Bobby Kennedy's assassination _ a terrible choice of phrase in a presidential campaign that features an African-American candidate.

Opponents seized on it, and even if they misconstrued it, she may have reduced further her seemingly slim chances of capturing the nomination.


Keep reading
about Clinton's Very Bad Day.

EARLIER: This post has been updated to include responses from the Clinton and Obama campaigns.

Hillary Clinton's argument for staying in the race took a disturbing turn Friday. While meeting with the editorial board of South Dakota's Sioux Falls Argus-Leader, she raised the specter of assassination while discussing why she would stay in the race:

"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. I don't understand it."

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The Obama camp has offered the following response to Sen. Clinton's comments:

"Senator Clinton's statement before the Argus Leader editorial board was unfortunate and has no place in this campaign," said Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton.

The Clinton camp is denying any implications beyond historical comparison in her reference to Bobby Kennedy's assassination:

"She was simply referencing her husband in 1992 and Bobby Kennedy in 1968 as historic examples of the nominating process going well into the summer. Any reading into beyond that would be inaccurate and outrageous."

UPDATE: Sen. Clinton has issued the following apology for her statements, a quick departure from her campaign's initial response:

"Earlier today 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. 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 our entire nation, and particularly for the Kennedy 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."

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Robert Kennedy Jr issued this statement, which was circulated by the Clinton Campaign:

It is clear from the context that Hillary was invoking a familiar political circumstance in order to support her decision to stay in the race through June. I have heard her make this reference before, also citing her husband's 1992 race, both of which were hard fought through June. I understand how highly charged the atmosphere is, but I think it is a mistake for people to take offense.

The New York Times' editorial board weighs in on what they call Clinton's "inexcusable outburst":

But she could, at least, have apologized.

Instead, she issued one of those tedious non-apology apologies in which it sounds like the person who is being offended is somehow at fault: "I regret that if my referencing that moment of trauma for our entire nation, and particularly for the Kennedy family was in any way offensive."

Time's Swampland blog points out that this is not the first time Clinton has made such comments:

Though she has now apologized for that very strange and tasteless comment to the Argus-Leader, this was not the first time she's said it. This from her interview with TIME Managing Editor Richard Stengel, published March 6.

Her excuse now is that the Kennedys have been "much on my mind these days" with the illness of Senator Edward Kennedy, but that doesn't explain what brought it to mind more than two months ago.

Washington Post's Chris Cilizza writes that he sees what she meant, but it was an exceedingly poor choice example:

What Clinton meant seems clear. Previous nomination fights have gone well into June and, therefore, there is no reason for this one to be cut short before every state has its say. (South Dakota is one of the last two states to vote, on June 3.)

Clinton later met with reporters to try to clarify her remarks, saying she only meant to make the point that that it's "an historic fact" that other primary campaigns have gone into June, but she voiced regret if her comments were misunderstood. She said "the Kennedys have been much on my mind in the last days" because of the diagnosis that Sen. Edward M. Kennedy has a brain tumor. Clinton said "I regret if my referencing that moment of trauma for our entire nation and particularly for the Kennedy family was in any way offensive."

Unfortunately for Clinton, using the RFK assassination to prove her point was -- at best -- a poorly chosen example. Many in the black community have expressed fear about the possibility of assassination as it relates to Sen. Barack Obama -- the first African-American candidate likely to be one of the major parties' nominee for president and raising the matter (in any manner) is widely regarded as poor form.

Andrew Sullivan suggests that Clinton's comments are a sign of her imploding:

As for her argument that June primaries are nothing new, she is correct. But in no previous primary election did the voting start just after New Years' Day. The New Hampshire primary in 1968 was on March 12, two months later than this year. For June, therefore, read August. Yes, this season has gone on for ever. And for Senator Clinton, it has now obviously gone on too long.

She's been waiting for Obama to implode. Instead, she just has.

Marc Ambinder wonders about the explanation of her Bobby Kennedy reference:

For those who contend that Clinton was referring to competitive contests or example, why didn't she bring up Ted Kennedy in 1980? Or Gary Hart in 1984? I think she was pointing to primary races where the eventual nominee was unknown at this point in the cycle.... But 1984 would apply more, her husband was the de-facto nominee at this point, and the compressed calender really renders such comparisons null and void.

Even if her point is legitimate, surely she is aware of the sensitivity of the subject.

Tonight on Countdown with Keith Olbermann Newsweek's Howard Fineman suggested that Clinton's comments could move superdelagates towards wanting to end the primary:

She seems constitutionally incapable of just saying I screwed up and her led footedness about this here is being observed by all the people who are still undecided about whom to back, the last 200 superdelegates here, they've got be looking at this and saying that this is a campaign that needs To Be Put Out Of Its Misery Real Soon"

Keith Olbermann himself then unleashed a furious special comment about Clinton's statements. Watch:

The issue of assassination has been a sensitive one this election. Black voters have repeatedly expressed concern that Barack Obama would be assassinated during the race, sentiment that hearkens back to the murders of civil rights leaders, Bobby Kennedy's assassination included. Reports the Telegraph:

Mr Obama, 46, was given full Secret Service protection last May.

It was the earliest juncture for any presidential candidate since the practice was first introduced following the assassination of Senator Robert Kennedy, two months after Dr King died from a shot fired by James Earl Ray, an escaped convict and racist.

The prospect of Mr Obama meeting a similar fate is etched deep in the collective psyche of many American blacks, particularly those old enough to remember the events of 1968, who overwhelmingly back the Illinois senator over his rival Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination.

Earlier in the campaign, a Clinton surrogate also raised the issue of assassination, this time with a more direct reference to Obama. The Clinton camp immediately distanced itself from the suggestion:

Today, in Dover, Francine Torge, a former John Edwards supporter, said this while introducing Mrs. Clinton: "Some people compare one of the other candidates to John F. Kennedy. But he was assassinated. And Lyndon Baines Johnson was the one who actually" passed the civil rights legislation....

Phil Singer, a Clinton spokesman said: "We were not aware that this person was going to make those comments and disapprove of them completely. They were totally inappropriate."

Nobel laureate Doris Lessing also raised a stir when she suggested that Obama would be assassinated were he to become president:

Obama, who is vying to become the first black president in US history, "would certainly not last long, a black man in the position of president. They would murder him," Lessing, 88, told the Dagens Nyheter daily.