Page last updated at 18:50 GMT, Monday, 14 April 2008 19:50 UK

McCain enters 'bitter' voters row

John McCain speaks during the Associated Press annual meeting.
John McCain said rural communities contributed to the enjoyment of life

Republican presidential hopeful John McCain has described Barack Obama's comments about "bitter" working-class voters as "elitist".

Mr McCain told reporters that the cultural and religious traditions of small-town Americans were not a response to economic hardship.

Mr Obama's Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, also denounced the comments.

Mr Obama has said his remarks - made at a fundraiser in San Francisco last week - were ill-chosen.

'Cultural traditions'

Mr McCain was talking to journalists assembled for the annual Associated Press meeting.

He said that Americans from "small towns and rural communities" had not "turn[ed] to their religious faith and cultural traditions out of resentment and a feeling of powerlessness to affect the course of government or pursue prosperity".

"Their appreciation of traditions like hunting was based in nothing other than their contribution to the enjoyment of life", he added.

Mr Obama, running against Mrs Clinton to be the Democratic presidential candidate, was accused of taking a condescending view of small-town voters after he was filmed at a private fundraising gathering last week, during which he said he understood why residents of some hard-pressed communities grew angry.

The truth is that these traditions that are passed on from generation to generation, those are important - that's what sustains us
Barack Obama

"You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them," he said.

"And it's not surprising, then, 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," he added.

Mrs Clinton said her rival's comments had been condescending and suggested voters in Pennsylvania did not "need a president who looks down on them".

"I was taken aback by the demeaning remarks Senator Obama made about people in small-town America," she said on Saturday.

"Senator Obama's remarks are elitist and are out of touch. They are not reflective of the values and beliefs of Americans, certainly not the Americans that I know."

Hillary Clinton visits a factory in Indianapolis (12 April 2008)
Mrs Clinton said the remarks did not reflect the values and beliefs of voters

At a rally in Indiana on Saturday, Mr Obama conceded his description had been clumsy and attempted to clarify his position.

"I didn't say it as well as I should have," he admitted.

He said he believed many voters were indeed bitter about the economy and that he had meant to say that "when you're bitter you turn to what you can count on".

"So people - they vote about guns, or they take comfort from their faith and their family and their community," he said, adding that it was a "natural response".

"The truth is that these traditions that are passed on from generation to generation, those are important. That's what sustains us."

The Illinois senator is ahead of Mrs Clinton in terms of delegates won in the Democratic primaries so far.

Mrs Clinton is hoping to reduce his lead when Pennsylvania holds its key primary election on 22 April.

The BBC's Jack Izzard in Washington says by upsetting Pennsylvania's working class voters at such a delicate time, Mr Obama could have handed a vital victory to Senator Clinton.

The latest count of pledged delegates to the party's national convention in August, according to the Associated Press, gives Mr Obama the support of 1,638 delegates and Mrs Clinton 1,502.

Electoral College votes

Winning post 270
Obama - Democrat
McCain - Republican
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