What Bill Clinton allegedly told Ted Kennedy about Obama: 'A few years ago he would have been getting us coffee'

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Bill Clinton was at the centre of a race storm last night after he was accused of denigrating Barack Obama.

The former president allegedly claimed during the hard-fought Democratic primary race: ‘A few years ago, this guy would have been getting us coffee.’

He is said to have made the racist remark in a phone call entreating Senator Teddy Kennedy, the party’s vastly influential elder statesman, to endorse his wife, Hillary, in the delicately balanced 2008 nomination battle.

But the call so offended Senator Kennedy that it backfired and helped make up the veteran Washington power broker’s mind to throw his complete support behind Mr Obama’s historic bid for the White House, according to a new book.

Mr Clinton was once lauded by African-American admirers as America’s ‘first black president'.

But the ‘coffee’ controversy has opened old wounds from the campaign trail when Mr Clinton was accused of being racially dismissive about the underdog who went on to derail his wife’s White House dreams.
Coffee jibe: Mr Clinton has waded into fresh controversy over his comments about US President Barack Obama

At the time, Mr Clinton scorned Mr Obama’s primary election victory in South Carolina, noting that Jesse Jackson had also carried the state in his failed presidential bid two decades earlier.

The former two-term president angrily denounced critics who suggested the comments were racially motivated and still seethes about the rumpus it caused to this day.

Last night, he was unavailable for comment about the new claim, which is featured in a new book about the presidential election called ‘Game Change.’

American political writers John Heliemann and Mark Halperin claim in the book, which is published in the US today (Mon), that Mr Clinton made the call to the late ‘Lion of the Senate’ on the day after Mr Obama won a key primary in Iowa.

‘He phoned Kennedy and pressed for an endorsement, making the case for his wife. But Bill then went on, belittling Obama in a manner that deeply offended Kennedy,’ they wrote.

‘Recounting the conversation later to a friend, Teddy fumed that Clinton had said, ‘A few years ago, this guy would have been getting us coffee.’

The book also claims Mrs Clinton, now in Mr Obama’s Cabinet as US Secretary of State, was keen to seize on claims of her rival’s past drug use to try and press home an advantage.

She is depicted as being pleased when her New Hampshire campaign chairman Bill Shaheen mentioned that Mr Obama took drugs as a young man. ‘Good for him,’ she is quoted as saying. ‘Let’s push it out.’

She was later persuaded by her staff not to try and capitalise on the controversy.

The top Democrat in the US Senate was also in hot water last night over racially insensitive comments he made during the campaign about Mr Obama that are quoted in ‘Game Change.’

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid yesterday apologised for describing the then Senator Obama as ‘light-skinned’ and ‘with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.’

He said: ‘I deeply regret using such a poor choice of words. I sincerely apologise for offending any and all Americans, especially African-Americans for my improper comments.

‘I was a proud and enthusiastic supporter of Barack Obama during the campaign and have worked as hard as I can to advance President Obama’s legislative agenda,’ he added.

Senator Reid remained neutral during the nomination contest, but is said to have initially urged Mr Obama to make a run for the presidency.

The book also quotes aides to Republican nominee John McCain describing the difficulties they faced with vice presidential pick Sarah Palin. ‘You guys have a lot of work to do,’ one of Mr McCain’s top advisors reportedly said, adding: ‘She doesn’t know anything.’

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