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Obama, Clinton Tangle Over Ferraro

Even as political junkies were focused on tonight's Mississippi primary results, a major fight broke out between Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Barack Obama(Ill.) over comments made by former vice presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro.

"If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position," Ferraro, a Clinton supporter, told the deliciously-named Torrance Daily Breeze in a story the newspaper ran on March 7. "And if he was a woman (of any color) he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept."

After a few days in which the story kicked around the blogosphere and the newsrooms of America without too much commotion, Ferraro's comments burst into the national conversation today thanks to a conference call by Obama surrogates that alleged Ferraro's comments were part of a pattern to raise the issue of race in the campaign.

"All this is part of an insidious pattern that needs to be addressed," Obama media consultant David Axelrod said on a conference call this afternoon, according to Politico's Ben Smith.

Axelrod's comments were taken to another level by the candidate himself during a media availability this afternoon in Pennsylvania.

Obama, according to Post reporter Peter Slevin, called on Clinton to censure Ferraro, adding: "I think anybody who understands the history of this country knows [Ferraro's comments] are patently absurd. And I would expect that the same way those comments don't have a place in my campaign they shouldn't have a place in Senator Clinton's either."

Shortly after those comments made the rounds, Clinton campaign manager Maggie Williams was out with a statement of her own -- a sign that the back and forth had gone nuclear.

Williams reiterated Clinton's rejection of Ferraro's comments -- "I do not agree with that and you know it's regrettable that any of our supporters on both sides say things that veer off into the personal," said the New York Senator -- before adding: "We reject these false, personal and politically calculated attacks on the eve of a primary. This campaign should be about the leadership we need for a better future and these attacks serve only to divide the Democratic Party and the American people."

Ferraro, too, pushed back in an interview on Fox News Channel's "American Election HQ" moments ago. "David Axelrod who knows me better, should not have gotten this whole campaign going," said Ferraro, accusing the Obama campaign of stoking the controversy. She added: "If in 1984 my name was Gerard Ferraro instead of Geraldine Ferraro, I would never have been the nominee for VP."

The Ferraro kerfuffle is only the latest example of a surrogate or staffer for the two leading Democrats causing controversy. Two weeks ago it was Austan Goolsbee. Last week it was Samantha Power. And this week it's Geraldine Ferraro.

As we wait for the Mississippi results, we're interested in your take on this trend. How responsible is (and should be) a candidate for unauthorized comments made by their staff or surrogates? Is there a different standard for paid staff than there is for unpaid surrogates? Why or why not?

By Chris Cillizza  |  March 11, 2008; 7:23 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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