MUNCIE, Ind. -- Democrat Barack Obama on Saturday conceded that comments he made about bitter working class voters who "cling to guns or religion" were ill chosen, as he tried to stem a burst of complaints that he is condescending.
"I didn't say it as well as I should have," he said at Ball State University.
As he tried to quell the furor, presidential rival Hillary Rodham Clinton hit Obama with one of her lengthiest and most pointed criticisms to date.
"Senator Obama's remarks were elitist and out of touch," she said, campaigning about an hour away in Indianapolis. "They are not reflective of the values and beliefs of Americans."
At issue are comments Obama made privately at a fundraiser last Sunday in San Francisco. He explained his troubles winning over working class voters, saying they have become frustrated with economic conditions:
"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."
The comments, posted on the Huffington Post political Web site Friday, set off a storm of criticism from Clinton, Republican nominee-in-waiting John McCain and other GOP officials. It threatened to highlight an Obama weakness -- the image that the Harvard-trained lawyer is arrogant and aloof.
After acknowledging his previous remarks in California could have been better phrased, he added:
"The truth is that these traditions that are passed on from generation to generation, those are important. That's what sustains us. But what is absolutely true is that people don't feel like they are being listened to."