Democratic US presidential rivals Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama on Monday toned down their rhetoric over race, seeking to smooth over a clash that was dividing their party, which for decades has prided itself on standing up for minority rights.
“I've been a little concerned about the tenor of the campaign over the last few days,” Obama told reporters in Reno, Nevada, after speaking to about 2,500 people at a rally. “We share the same goals, we are all Democrats, we all believe in civil rights, we all believe in equal rights.”
“I think that (former President) Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton have historically and consistently been on the right side of civil rights issues,” he added. “I think they care about the African American community and they care about all Americans and they want to see equal rights and equal justice in this country.”
Speaking at night in Carson City, Nevada's capital city, he directly addressed a question from a voter as to whether a black man could be elected president of the United States.
“I don't want a candidate on the Democratic ticket who isn't electable,” said Christy Tews, 68, who added that she wanted to back Obama after hearing him speak. “We have never elected a black man in our country.”
Obama, who has a Kenyan father and white American mother, cited his political rise in Illinois. “They said they will never elect a black guy called Barack Obama,” he said, adding that voters today wanted someone who could solve problems.
“I don't want to sound naive. Will there be some folks who probably don't vote for me because I'm black? Of course,” he told an enthusiastic audience of about 1,250 people and another 1,000 listening in an overflow auditorium nearby.
“Just like there will be some people who wouldn't vote for Hillary because she is a woman or don't vote for John Edwards, they don't like his accent.”
His remarks came on a day the former first lady addressed a predominantly black audience of union and church members in New York who gathered to demand higher pay for security guards in the city and to mark the anniversary of slain civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday.
Clinton, a New York senator who would be the first woman president, took an equally conciliatory tone, hailing the fact that the Democratic Party's top two presidential candidates were a woman and a black man.
“Each of us, no matter who we are or where we started from, is a beneficiary of Dr. King,” she said. “Both Senator Obama and I know that we are where we are today because of leaders like Dr. King and generations of men and women like all of you.”