Journalists Mark Halperin and John Heilemann reported the remarks in their new book, "Game Change," which is scheduled to be in bookstores Tuesday.
The authors quote Reid as saying privately that Obama, as a black candidate, could be successful thanks, in part, to his "light-skinned" appearance and speaking patterns "with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one."
In a statement to CNN Saturday, Reid said, "I deeply regret using such a poor choice of words."
"I sincerely apologize for offending any and all Americans, especially African Americans for my improper comments.”
Asked about Reid’s comments, Virginia Democrat Douglas Wilder, who became the first African-American to be elected governor of a state 20 years ago, took issue with Reid’s assumptions about race relations. “We’re not where he thought we may have been a year ago,” Wilder said Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union.
“We crossed that threshold 20 years ago,” Wilder said making a reference to his own historic election as Virginia’s chief executive in 1989.
“The unfortunate thing, John,” Wilder told CNN Chief National Correspondent John King, “is that one snippet ... by Harry Reid illustrates the need for a more open discussion about race and put it where it belongs – into the closet. [President] Obama wasn’t elected because he was – or was not – of any color. He represented a change. He represented a fastening of the dreams and the aspirations of the American people to someone who could bring about change.”
Saying he would have liked to have thought his own election as Virginia’s governor would have put to rest any concerns about an African-American candidate’s race, Wilder also said Sunday that he was “saddened … to see that 20 years later there still is that degree of apprehension on behalf of some people who are in leadership positions.”
Though he was critical of Reid for the recently reported comments, Wilder said he disagreed with the suggestion Sunday from Michael Steele, the Republican National Committee’s first African-American Chairman, that Reid should step down.
And, on the eve of Obama’s first anniversary in office, Wilder also said he thought it was too early to assess the nation’s first African-American president.
“I think it’s too early to even give a grade,” Wilder told King. “Because I think the Obama administration inherited a tremendous amount of problems – not just one. And every day things change.”
“It takes a year or two to get your sea legs, to get your feet under you,” Wilder said pointing to his own tenure as Virginia’s governor. “I had some degree of executive experience. Obama’s had none at all.”
But, Wilder added that he thought Obama was on his way to developing into the kind of president who knows how to wield the power of the nation’s most powerful office.
–CNN Political Editor Mark Preston contributed to this report.