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Clinton: Wright would not have been my pastor

  • Story Highlights
  • "You choose what church you want to attend," Sen. Hillary Clinton tells newspaper
  • Sen. Barack Obama has denounced some of his former minister's sermons
  • Obama campaign: Clinton trying to distract attention from Bosnia trip comments
  • Sermons included several racially charged remarks
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From Alex Mooney and Peter Hamby
CNN
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(CNN) -- Sen. Hillary Clinton would have long ago distanced herself from the Rev. Jeremiah Wright if she had been a member of his church, the Democratic presidential candidate said Tuesday.

It's the first time she or her campaign has commented directly on a controversy that has swirled around rival Sen. Barack Obama's campaign in recent weeks.

"I think given all we have heard and seen, he would not have been my pastor," Clinton said in a news conference in Greensburg, Pennsylvania.

The comments came hours after the New York senator made similar comments to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review in an editorial board interview.

"You don't choose your family, but you choose what church you want to attend," she told the paper.

Clinton repeated those remarks in the news conference. Video Watch Clinton talk about Wright and other issues »

An Obama campaign spokesman said Clinton's comments were part of a "transparent effort to distract attention away from the story she made up about dodging sniper fire in Bosnia," a reference to comments Clinton made last week. She later said she "misspoke."

"The truth is, Barack Obama has already spoken out against his pastor's offensive comments and addressed the issue of race in America with a deeply personal and uncommonly honest speech," Obama campaign press secretary Bill Burton said.

"The American people deserve better than tired political games that do nothing to solve the larger challenges facing this country."

Clinton's comments on Wright came almost a week after Obama delivered a speech on race and politics in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, during which he denounced some of his former minister's sermons, but said he could not repudiate the man himself.

The sermons in question -- some of which were several years old -- included several racially charged remarks, and became the subject of scrutiny after a news report highlighted them earlier this month.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Clinton referenced a speech she gave nearly a year ago after talk-radio host Don Imus' controversial remarks about the Rutgers women's basketball team.

"I said it was time for standing up for what is right, for saying enough is enough, for urging that we turn a culture of degradation into a culture of empowerment, for saying that while we of course must protect our right of free expression, it should not be used as a license or an excuse to demean or humiliate our fellow citizens. Sen. Obama spoke eloquently at that time as well," she said.

"Everyone will have to decide these matters for themselves. They were obviously very personal matters," Clinton added. "But I was asked what I would do if he was my pastor and I said I think the choice would be clear for me."

In his speech last week, Obama said he heard his former minister make controversial remarks, but not the ones that have been the subject of recent controversy.

"Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course," Obama said in the speech.

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"Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely -- just as I'm sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed."

Asked by CNN if her speaking openly about Wright meant the issue was now on the table in the effort to win superdelegates, Clinton answered: "I was asked what I would do, and I answered the question." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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