DES MOINES, Iowa - Former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey has apologized to Barack Obama for any unintentional insult he committed by raising the Democratic presidential candidate's Muslim heritage while endorsing rival candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Kerrey sent a letter to Obama on Wednesday, lauding the Illinois senator's qualifications to be president and saying that he never meant to harm his candidacy. Kerrey told The Associated Press in a telephone interview that he sent the letter on his own and had not spoken to Clinton or her campaign about the comments he made Sunday in Iowa.
"What I found myself getting into in Iowa - and it was my own fault - it was the wrong moment to do it and it was insulting," Kerrey told the AP. "I meant no disrespect at all."
Obama spokesman Bill Burton said the senator accepted Kerrey's apology, sent to the campaign in the mail and via e-mail.
While announcing his support for Clinton on Sunday, Kerrey told The Washington Post in an interview that while he hopes Clinton is the nominee, he would like Obama to have a role - especially because of his ability to reach out to black youth and Muslims around the world.
"It's probably not something that appeals to him, but I like the fact that his name is Barack Hussein Obama, and that his father was a Muslim and that his paternal grandmother is a Muslim," said Kerrey, a former governor and the current president of the New School in New York City. "There's a billion people on the planet that are Muslims, and I think that experience is a big deal."
Kerrey's mention of Obama's middle name and his Muslim roots raised eyebrows because they are also used as part of a smear campaign on the Internet that falsely suggests Obama is a Muslim who wants to bring jihad to the United States.
Obama is a Christian.
The Clinton campaign has already fired two volunteer county coordinators in Iowa for forwarding hoax e-mails with the debunked claim. Last week, a national Clinton campaign co-chairman resigned for raising questions about whether Obama's teenage drug use could be used against him, so Kerrey's comments raised questions about whether the Clinton campaign might be using another high-profile surrogate to smear Obama.
Kerrey told Obama in the letter that was not his intent.
"I answered a question about your qualifications to be president in a way that has been interpreted as a backhanded insult of you. I assure you I meant to do just the opposite," Kerrey wrote.
He went on to say he considers Obama one of the most talented people he's met in politics and "exceptionally qualified by experience and judgment to be president of the United States." He expanded on Obama's potential to bring peace to the world and his capacity to inspire hope - high praise for someone backing Obama's top rival.