(CNN) – In the run-up to Super Tuesday, former President Bill Clinton is planning a tour of African-American churches this Sunday in Los Angeles. A prominent elected official who will be joining him has described it as Clinton’s 'mea culpa tour' to the black community.
The former president set off a firestorm of criticism for comments he made during the South Carolina primary, comments which were widely interpreted as racially insensitive. He’s adamantly denied he was playing racial politics. Exit polls show President Clinton’s seemingly aggressive campaigning may have contributed to the stunning defeat his wife Hillary Clinton suffered in the primary there.
According to CNN exit polling, a majority of South Carolina voters said Bill Clinton’s campaigning was important to their vote - 48 percent of them cast ballots for Barack Obama, while 37percent went for Sen. Clinton. And CNN has reported some of the former president’s controversial remarks on the trail may have contributed to Sen. Ted Kennedy’s decision to endorse Sen. Obama.
President Clinton’s tour of African-American churches comes as the Clinton campaign fights to win a coveted prize on Super Tuesday – delegate-rich California – where African-Americans make up 7 percent of Democratic primary voters.
“They need to go touch the people like they did before. The bickering they got in in South Carolina must be put aside,” one of the officials who plans to join the former president on Sunday tells CNN. The official spoke on background until the campaign officially announces the planned trip. “Bill is going to have to come back among those who loved him and he did so much for. He is going to have to do it – I can’t do it for him – and face the voters,” the source continued, adding that once he does, “it’ll put him back in the comfort zone, and I think you’ll see [Hillary Clinton’s] numbers go up.”
A spokesperson for the Clinton campaign in California disputes the notion the stops are intended to make amends with the black community before the state’s voters head to the polls this Tuesday. “He’s very popular with Latinos, African-Americans, it’s absolutely not a mea culpa tour,” says Clinton California spokesperson Luis Vizcaino.
CNN’s Candy Crowley reported that after the South Carolina contest a number of unpaid advisors and surrogates to the Clinton campaign agreed the former president’s remarks “hurt more than helped” his wife’s campaign. Since then, President Clinton’s remarks have been muted and he has ramped down criticism of the Illinois senator.
But Clinton spokesperson Vizcaino insists the tensions did not reverberate in California. “Right after the [South Carolina] debate, where some people felt there was a lot of tension with the African-American community, [Hillary Clinton] came to Los Angeles and had a discussion with members of the African-American community here. And people here said no one cares about the controversy or black-versus-brown or brown-versus white-tension — we want to know about jobs, and how she’ll help our community.
“I don’t think there was one single question raised there about – ‘we feel you are using race or you disrespected Martin Luther King Jr.,' nothing like that,” says Vizcaino.
The politicians joining the former president on Sunday expect to visit a number of black churches in South Central Los Angeles, with additional stops possible in Inglewood and West Los Angeles.
Sen. Hillary Clinton and Chelsea Clinton will attend separate events in California this weekend. Vizcaino says it’s all evidence the campaign “is not taking anything for granted.”
He adds that “the former president remains very, very popular in this state. It’s still referred to as ‘Clinton country.’”
(updated with new reporting 2 p.m. Saturday)