A high-profile supporter quit Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign on Wednesday after a remark about black Democratic rival Barack Obama was interpreted as racist.
Geraldine Ferraro, the only woman to run on a major US party's White House ticket, had said Obama was leading Clinton in the race for the Democratic party nomination for November's presidential's election because he was black.
Ferraro, the trailblazing 1984 Democratic vice presidential candidate, was a member of Clinton's finance committee and raised funds for the New York senator and former first lady before stepping down, a campaign spokesman said.
Clinton, who is married to former President Bill Clinton and would be the first woman US president, said she deeply regrets Ferraro's comments.
"I said yesterday that I rejected what she said and I certainly do repudiate it," Clinton said at a meeting of black newspaper publishers in Washington. "Obviously, she doesn't speak for the campaign, she doesn't speak for any of my positions and she has resigned from being a member of my very large finance committee."
Obama, who would be the first black US president, denounced Ferraro's comments as he made a campaign appearance in Chicago on Wednesday but said he did not think they were intended to be racist.
"I think that her comments were ridiculous. I think they were wrong-headed," Obama told a news conference after being endorsed by a group of high-ranking retired military officers.
"The notion that it is of great advantage to me to be an African American named Barack Obama and pursue the presidency, I think, is not a view that has been commonly shared by the general public," he said.
Obama, who has built up a strong lead in the state-by-state contests for the Democratic nomination to face Republican John McCain, denied Ferraro's charge that his campaign repeatedly responded to criticism by saying it was racially motivated.
"I'm always hesitant to throw around words like racist because I don't think she intended them that way," he said.
The former congresswoman ignited the flap when she told a California newspaper that "if Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position."
"And if he was a woman 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," she said.
Asked whether Ferraro's comment was racist, Eric McDaniel, a political science professor at the University of Texas at Austin, said there is no way to clearly define what is racist. In this case, he said the comments were an insult.
"It's an unfortunate comment and kind of an offensive comment because what she is doing, in many ways, is framing Obama as the 'affirmative action' candidate," he said, referring to policies aimed at helping minorities.
Ferraro defended her comments on Wednesday in a round of television appearances and rejected what she called attempts by Obama's campaign to paint her remark as racist.
"For his campaign to take that and spin it and attack Hillary and me as being racist, I tell you, it is just appalling," Ferraro told CBS's The Early Show.
On NBC Nightly News, Ferraro said she resigned because she wanted to get the dispute over her comments "off the news." She also accused the Obama campaign of putting the issue in the national spotlight.
"If anybody is going to apologise, they should apologise to me for calling me a racist," she said.
The Obama campaign, which fired an adviser who called Clinton a "monster," had urged the Clinton campaign to break with Ferraro to send a message about the negative campaigning. Obama has run as a candidate who will change the partisan atmosphere in Washington and work to bring people together.
Ferraro, a former US representative from New York, and her presidential running mate, Walter Mondale, lost in 1984 in a landslide to Republican Ronald Reagan and George HW Bush, the current president's father.
Obama won the Mississippi nominating contest on Tuesday, with heavy support from black voters. The two candidates are now concentrating on their campaigns in Pennsylvania, which votes on April 22. (Reuters)
Race flap forces Clinton supporter to quit