Bill Clinton Asks for a Second Chance

He has learned he can promote his wife but that she has to defend herself.

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Corrected on 2/12/08: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported the church that Bill Clinton visited. Clinton visited the Temple of Praise.

The morning after his wife, Hillary, was routed in three state contests by Sen. Barack Obama in their dead-heat battle for the Democratic nomination, former President Bill Clinton made his case for her before a packed Sunday service at one of the largest black churches in Washington, D.C.

But first he offered an apology of sorts for racially tinged comments he made about Obama and his candidacy that have triggered a backlash in the black community and among many other Democrats.

Clinton invoked his "worship of a God of second chances" in pronouncing himself glad to be at the Temple of Praise, which claims nearly 15,000 members. His invocation of second chances echoed comments he made early last week at black churches in California, where he campaigned for his wife before that state's Super Tuesday primary, which she won.

Clinton had been criticized for asserting that Obama's characterization of his position on the Iraq war is a "fairy tale" and for comparing Obama's resounding victory in South Carolina to failed presidential candidate Jesse Jackson's wins there in the '80s. He has softened his tone on the trail considerably since, and a few days ago, he told an NBC reporter in Maine that he has learned he can promote his wife but that she has to defend herself.

His mini-mea culpa on Sunday, which came two days before voters in the District of Columbia, Virginia, and Maryland will go to the polls and just hours before his wife's campaign manager stepped down, was politely received. He did get a warm initial standing ovation after church leader Bishop Glen Staples, a longtime Baptist minister, introduced Clinton as "one of the greatest—if not the greatest—presidents."

Staples didn't mention candidate Hillary, but ticked off a list of Clinton administration accomplishments that he said helped the black community, including job creation that contributed to lowering African-American unemployment more than 6 percent.

And Clinton followed by hitting the economic message hard, touting his wife—who Sunday lost to Obama in the Maine contest—as the only candidate who would place a freeze on foreclosures for those hit by the mortgage crisis. In a message with resonance in the black community, particularly in Washington, where diabetes is a major health crisis, Clinton spoke of his wife's universal healthcare plan and his foundation in Harlem that has been working on reducing type 2 diabetes.

As he wound up, Clinton invoked God again.

God works in strange ways, he said, in this case, setting up a monumental and historic choice: the decision of voting for a woman or voting for an African-American for president. Both of which, he said, he's wanted to do all his life.

"Wonder why God gave us this dilemma?" he asked, before assuring the crowd that whatever they decide, "we honor."

Which was greeted by gracious applause. Or as Obama might say, gracious enough.