PITTSBURGH — Barack Obama, trying to quell the uproar over his recent remarks about "bitter" Americans in small towns, struck back at his rivals Monday by saying that voters were tired of politicians who fanned "fake controversies" for their own advantage.
But Hillary Rodham Clinton, Obama's challenger for the Democratic presidential nomination, and John McCain, the presumptive Republican pick, each tried to keep the spotlight on the Illinois senator's controversial comments.
Clinton, looking to maintain her edge over Obama in Pennsylvania heading into the state's primary next Tuesday, released a television ad featuring Clinton supporters expressing their dismay over Obama's statements at a San Francisco fundraising event. It was Clinton's first TV ad to directly attack Obama.
McCain, for his part, called Obama's remarks "elitist." During a Washington appearance where he referred to Americans who endured the Depression and defeated Nazi Germany in World War II, McCain said Obama was talking about people who "made the world safe for democracy."
Through the day, all of the candidates portrayed themselves as able to connect with ordinary voters, while challenging their rivals' authenticity.
Obama -- in an appearance at the annual meeting of the Associated Press in Washington, where McCain also spoke -- acknowledged that he had made "poor word choices" when he said some Americans were "bitter" over years of economic setbacks and, as a result "they cling to guns or religion" along with anti-immigrant and anti-trade sentiments.
Still, Obama said Monday that he would "never walk away from the larger point" he was trying to make.
Obama argued that politicians had fostered a legacy of cynicism by continually pledging to address what he called "the downside of globalization" and then going back to Washington to fight "over the latest distraction of the week."
At a Democratic party dinner Monday at a union hall in Philadelphia, Obama tried to blend his controversial San Francisco comments with his longtime campaign message about the need for political change.
"Sometimes hope and anger go hand in hand," Obama said. "You've got to be angry about your circumstances to want to bring about change. And you've got to have hope to believe that change can happen."
Clinton, who followed Obama to the podium at a candidate forum held by the Alliance for American Manufacturing in Pittsburgh, drew scattered boos as she began her remarks by criticizing Obama's comments. She pressed on, however, and tried to distinguish herself as a candidate who really understood working-class Americans.
"I believe that people don't cling to religion. They value their faith. You don't cling to guns. You enjoy hunting or collecting or sport shooting. . . . I don't think he really gets it that people are looking for a president who stands up for you, and not looks down on you," Clinton said.
Levey reported from Pennsylvania and Neuman from Washington.