NASHVILLE — A member of Tennessee’s Democratic Executive Committee is apologizing to fellow Democrats for suggesting Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama may have connections to terrorists.
“My statement that Senator Obama ‘may be terrorist-connected’ was incorrect and I apologize for making it,” former state Rep. Fred Hobbs said in a letter to fellow Democratic Executive Committee members.
Mr. Hobbs, a former Eagleville mayor, said his comments “did reflect questions I had after what I had seen reported on Fox News, but I should have taken some time to check the accuracy of what I saw on television before speaking publicly.”
The flap is meanwhile generating questions for U.S. Rep. Lincoln Davis, a possible 2010 gubernatorial candidate.
Rep. Davis’ chief of staff, Beecher Frasier, initially did not refute Mr. Hobbs’ comments last week, saying he didn’t know for sure if Sen. Obama, D-Ill., was “terrorist connected” but assumed he was not.
Those comments have drawn a rebuke from former U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr., the 2006 U.S. Senate nominee for whom Mr. Frasier served as campaign manager. Calling Mr. Frasier “dead wrong,” Mr. Ford said, “his comments offend me as an American and embarrass me as a Tennessean.”
Regarding Mr. Ford’s comments, Rep. Davis on Monday said, “God bless Harold Ford Jr. Bless his little heart.”
Rep. Davis served as honorary campaign chairman for Mr. Ford’s U.S. Senate campaign. Rep. Davis would not comment on Mr. Frasier’s remarks.
Rep. Davis has refused to say if he will endorse Sen. Obama. The candidate’s primary opponent, Hillary Clinton, overwhelmingly won Rep. Davis’ largely rural 4th Congressional District in Tennessee’s Feb. 5 primary.
In answer to a question about whether he will endorse Sen. Obama, Rep. Davis said, “I’m not endorsing (Republican candidate) John McCain.”
Tennessee Republican Party spokesman Bill Hobbs, no relation to Democrat Hobbs, last Friday questioned just how unified Democrats are. The same day, Mr. Frasier issued a “clarifying statement” saying “no one in their right mind, including me, believes Senator Obama has ties to terrorism.”
Democratic Executive Committee member Weldon Markham of Chattanooga on Tuesday called Mr. Hobbs’ initial comments “outrageous.” He said he is prepared to request Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Gray Sasser “ask for the resignation of each member who’s not prepared to support our nominee.”
“I think he should not only apologize, he should publicly proclaim he’s going to vigorously support our nominee Barack Obama,” Mr. Markham said.
In his letter of apology, Mr. Hobbs said, “I look forward to working with Senator Obama” and others to “elect Democrats this November.”
Mr. Hobbs’ original comments were reported by the Nashville City Paper in an article last Friday. His comments triggered an uproar among state Democrats and criticisms on Tuesday from Rep. Davis.
In a statement issued Tuesday afternoon, Rep. Davis said Mr. Hobbs “is neither a constituent, close friend nor political ally of mine. His statements were wrong, outrageous and unacceptable.”
Democratic Party spokesman Wade Munday said Tuesday that by sending this letter to the executive committee, Mr. Hobbs “threw himself on the mercy of that committee.”
As to what actions the 66-member committee may take regarding Mr. Hobbs, Mr. Munday said “everyone is now going to be focusing primarily ... on the presidential race.”
In a brief interview on Tuesday, Mr. Hobbs said his remarks were based in part “on something about Hamas endorsing him, but I think since then that’s been withdrawn.”
Sen. Obama was criticized in April when a top Hamas adviser said the militant Palestinian group — considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. government — liked Sen. Obama and hoped he would win. But Reuters news service reported the group withdrew its “endorsement” earlier this month after Sen. Obama told American Israel Public Affairs Committee members he strongly supported Israel.
On Monday, former Vice President Al Gore of Tennessee endorsed Sen. Obama while Gov. Phil Bredesen endorsed him June 4.
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, ...