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Clinton's most telling gaffe?

  • Story Highlights
  • Clinton reminds that Robert Kennedy slain during 1968 Democratic race
  • Many say words implied Obama vulnerable to assassination as potential black president
  • Clinton apologizes, says was illustrating the unpredictable nature of the race
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By Jonathan Mann
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(CNN) -- Let's be clear: Hillary Clinton doesn't really want Barack Obama dead. It was just a gaffe, but maybe the most telling gaffe of the campaign so far.

Analysts say that Hillary Clinton's comments this week about Barack Obama touched on a real fear among U.S. blacks.

Clinton made it while talking to a small newspaper in South Dakota about the biggest question in her campaign: Why is she still running for the Democratic presidential nomination, even though Obama has a nearly locked-in lead and the primary season ends in just a few days?

On Tuesday, the Democrats will hold their very last primaries and get a final count of the delegates the two candidates have won. Then, it will be up to party officials known as superdelegates to make up their own minds and let a winner finally emerge.

Obama is so far ahead no one expects the next few days to change anything. But Clinton isn't quitting. She explained in South Dakota that sometimes the race can drag on and sometimes, she added, it can change abruptly.

"We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California."

She had her facts right: Robert Kennedy, JFK's younger brother, was shot June 5th, 1968 while campaigning for the Democratic nomination.

She also had a larger point right, though it probably wasn't intentional: her chances are so small that it would take a calamity in the Obama campaign to give her the nomination.

But was she revealing that Obama's potential assassination figures as a potential 'plus' in her plans?

She apologized and said she really meant nothing of the kind. Obama quickly accepted the apology.

Even so, Clinton's remark touched on a real fear among U.S. blacks: that Obama would be assassinated because he's the first African-American with a real chance at winning the White House.

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Clinton had already made race an issue in the campaign, telling another newspaper that "Obama's support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting (her)."

Both Hillary and Bill Clinton have long records of working for minorities and at the outset of her campaign, blacks backed her, rather than Obama.

But Obama has cemented their support, and many black Democrats tell pollsters that they won't vote for the party's candidate if it's her.

In the course of this campaign, Hillary Clinton has changed the way many Americans look at her, from a former First Lady and loyal wife, to a key national political figure in her own right.

But the US had never seen as much of her, up close, as it has now.

And some Americans are beginning to think that from some angles, the picture isn't always as flattering.

All About Hillary ClintonDemocratic PartyBarack ObamaJohn McCainRepublican Party

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