Barack Obama, the probable Democratic presidential nominee, wants Bill Clinton to help him heal the deep party rifts created by his wife Hillary’s divisive campaign – culminating in her dramatic claim this weekend that the 1968 assassination of Robert F Kennedy was a reason not to be pushed out of the race.
The tension between Hillary Clinton and Obama intensified after she told the Sioux Falls Argus Leader in South Dakota, which holds the last primary contest in 10 days’ time: “We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June.”
She quickly apologised, ashen-faced, for a comment which appeared dangerously close to wishful thinking about Obama, but the damage was done.
Senior officials on Obama’s campaign believe Bill Clinton has the unique status and political gifts to reunite the party after such gaffes. They expressed confidence that the former president would rise above the perceived slights and grudges of a hard-fought campaign and work flat out for an Obama victory in November’s presidential election.
“If anybody can put their arms around the party and say we need to be together, it is Bill Clinton,” a senior Obama aide said.
“He’s brilliant, he has got heart and he cares deeply about the country. It’s tricky because of his position as Hillary’s spouse, but his involvement is very important to us.
“Bill Clinton will give permission to Hillary supporters to come into our camp and become one party. He is critical to this effort.”
Hillary, 60, claimed that her remark about the assassination had arisen because the “Kennedys have been much on my mind” after Senator Edward Kennedy, Robert’s younger brother, was diagnosed with a brain tumour last week.
She insisted she was referring to the timing of his assassination in June, when he was still a presidential candidate, rather than his killing, to make the point that there was nothing unusual about her determination to take this year’s race for the nomination into the summer.
However, while she expressed regret for “referencing that moment of trauma for our entire nation”, she did not apologise to Obama, who has been receiving secret security protection for the past year after death threats.