NASHVILLE — Gov. Phil Bredesen said Monday he disagrees with reported remarks by Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama that voters in some economically hard-pressed small towns had become “bitter” and “cling to guns or religion” as a result.
Emphasizing that he had not seen the full text of U.S. Sen. Obama’s remarks, Gov. Bredesen said in an interview that “I feel almost exactly the opposite ... as you might imagine, you know me. I’m sort of deeply grounded in a view of the world in which guns and religion and self-sufficiency and that are very much a part of the American character.
“I don’t see it as the refuge of the bitter in any way,” said Gov. Bredesen, who built his political career as a moderate to conservative Southern Democrat. “So I don’t happen to agree with that assessment as I read it — but again, I’d like to see the whole statement.”
Sen. Barack on Monday continued to defend himself over the remarks he made last week at a San Francisco fundraiser as he prepares for upcoming primary battles with Democratic foe Hillary Clinton in Pennsylvania and Indiana.
According to a transcript of the fundraiser on the Huffington Post Web site, Sen. Obama sketched out challenges he faces in attempting to win over working-class white voters whose economic hopes, he said, were dashed by both the Bush and Clinton administrations.
“So it’s not surprising then that 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,” Sen. Obama said, according to the Huffington Post.
Gov. Bredesen said that given how the episode has been reported, “it’s no secret it’s presented an enormous problem for him, and I’m sure it’s something that’s going to be brought up time and again as this race goes on.”
But he later noted that the sooner Democrats settle the nomination and the party is focused on a “real campaign,” the sooner everyone can find out “what legs these things have.”
Gov. Bredesen also said “there’s hardly ever been a race I can think of where someone has made some comment they wish they hadn’t made.” He said he is “sure” that the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, John McCain, “wishes he hadn’t said we’re going to be in Iraq for one hundred years either.”
The governor’s comments came as an article published in Sunday editions of the Philadelphia Inquirer quoted him continuing to harbor concerns about the impact of the Obama-Clinton battle on Democrats’ chances come this fall.
The governor has previously stated that he believes Democratic superdelegates, the high-ranking elected and party officials who get a say in the nomination, should come together in a “primary” in early June and settle the nomination so the party can heal in time for the fall general election.
The Inquirer article said the governor illustrated his position by citing a conversation he recently had in a restaurant described as being “near” Chattanooga.
“Four guys in a booth said, ‘Phil, sit down, we voted for you, and so I did,’” Gov. Bredesen was quoted saying. “And one of them turns to me and says, ‘We’re all Democrats, who are you going to vote for? Hillary or Hussein?’”
The governor was quoted saying the reference to Sen. Barack Obama’s middle name adds to challenges the nominee will face in November, particularly in Tennessee, which he described as something of a bellweather state.
Gov. Bredesen said Monday the restaurant was actually closer to Winchester, Tenn., about 50 miles northwest of Chattanooga.
“I didn’t ask these guys their party affiliation,” he said of the men in the booth. “I think they were Republicans.”
The governor said that while he was quoted saying the contest would be a “tough race” for either Sen. Obama or Sen. Clinton, “I think it is certainly possible for a Democratic candidate to win Tennessee. I don’t think they’re there yet.”
In the Inquirer, he was quoted saying an unnamed Tennessee superdelegate had told him both candidates were “poison.”
Tennessee Republican Party spokesman Bill Hobbs said he agrees with the governor that Sen. Clinton and Sen. Obama face general election problems in Tennessee.
“I think he spoke the truth,” Mr. Hobbs said.
Gray Sasser, chairman of the Tennessee Democratic Party, said, “I don’t think at the end of the day Tennesseans are going to make a mistake in 2008. They’re not going to authorize a third Bush term by voting for John McCain.”
Vanderbilt University political science professor Bruce Oppenheimer noted Republicans have a 5 percent to 10 percent electoral advantage these days in Tennessee. He noted President Bush handily beat Democratic challenger John Kerry in 2004.
“I’m not expecting a state which Bush carried by 14 points will be a state ... in play in 2008 unless Republicans are doing very badly.”
Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...