by Mike Dorning
MIAMI - Sen. Hillary Clinton cited the June 1968 assassination of Robert F. Kennedy on Friday as a reason to continue her increasingly long-shot bid for the Democratic presidential nomination into June, but later apologized for the comment.
Clinton, responding to a question from the Sioux Falls Argus Leader editorial board in South Dakota about calls for her to quit her campaign against front-runner Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, said, "My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California. You know I just, I don't understand it."
But within a couple of hours, Clinton apologized for the reference to Kennedy's assassination in Los Angeles.
"I was discussing the Democratic primary history and in the course of that discussion mentioned the campaigns of both my husband and Sen. [Robert] Kennedy waged in California in June in 1992 and 1968 and I was referencing those to make the point that we have had nomination primary contests that go into June,'' she said. "That's a historic fact.
"The Kennedys have been much on my mind the last days because of Sen. Kennedy," she added, referring to Sen. Edward Kennedy's recent diagnosis of a brain tumor. "I regret that if my referencing that moment of trauma for our entire nation and in particular the Kennedy family was in any way offensive. I certainly had no intention of that whatsoever."
Concerns over security for Obama, who received Secret Service protection at an early stage of the campaign, are rarely expressed publicly by political leaders for fear of being perceived as inadvertently raising the risk to him.
Obama spokesman Bill Burton said Clinton's comment was "unfortunate" and "has no place in this campaign."
Clinton spokesman Mo Elleithee said the senator was only referring to her husband and Kennedy "as historical examples of the nominating process going well into the summer and any reading into it beyond that would be inaccurate and outrageous."
She has said much the same thing before. In a March interview with Time magazine, she said: "Primary contests used to last a lot longer. We all remember the great tragedy of Bobby Kennedy being assassinated in June in L.A. My husband didn't wrap up the nomination in 1992 until June, also in California. Having a primary contest go through June is nothing particularly unusual."
A close Obama ally in the Senate, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, said he accepted her explanation.
"I know Hillary Clinton, and the last thing in the world she'd ever want is to wish misfortune on anybody. She and Barack are friends," Durbin said. "It was ... a careless remark and we'll leave it at that."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.