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Obama accepts Reid's apology over racial remark

The nation's first African-American president on Saturday accepted an apology from his key Senate ally over a racially insensitive remark made during the presidential campaign.

world Updated: Jan 10, 2010 08:31 IST

The nation's first African-American president on Saturday accepted an apology from his key Senate ally over a racially insensitive remark made during the presidential campaign.

At issue was a remark by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who has shepherded Barack Obama's health reform legislation further than any other attempt in recent history.

Reid, who is white, referred to Obama, then a fellow senator, in a 2008 private conversation as a "light skinned" black who spoke "with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one," according to a new book about to appear on the campaign by journalists Mark Halperin and John Heilemann.

Tipped off that the quote was to appear in the new book, Reid issued an apology "for offending any and all Americans, especially African Americans, for my improper comments". He conceded it was a "poor choice of words".

Reid also called Obama to personally apologize.

Later on Saturday, Obama accepted Reid's apology "without question" because he'd known him for so many years.

"I've seen the passionate leadership he's shown on issues of social justice and I know what's in his heart," Obama said in a written statement. "As far as I am concerned, the book is closed."

The situation echoed one in 2007, when then-Sentor Joe Biden, now the vice president, was vying with Obama for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination.

Biden quipped: "I mean, you got the first mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy."

Biden later apologized, and Obama not only accepted it - but made him his running mate.

The incident with Reid, 70, set pundits to chattering about how it could further erode Reid's reelection chances from his home state Nevada in the all-important mid-term elections in November.

According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, more than half of the state's voters are now dissatisfied with Reid's performance and showed Reid lagging behind three possible Republican candidates.

In the past week, two other key Democratic senators, Chris Dodd and Byron Dorgan, said they would not run for reelection, sending worries among Democrats about whether they can hold the minimum 60-vote advantage in the Senate needed to close debate and move forward on health insurance reform, financial industry regulation and other issues vital to the Obama administration.