[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/06/16/art.obama.handout.jpg caption="Sen. Obama had strong words for NAFTA in February and March."](CNN) - Before the Ohio primary in March, the battle between Democratic candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton morphed into a fierce debate over free trade – a clash that seemed to hinge on which candidate could appear more anti-NAFTA.
Now, in an interview with Fortune magazine, Obama appears to backing off his tough talk on trade.
"Sometimes during campaigns the rhetoric gets overheated and amplified," Obama told Fortune.
Obama has consistently described him himself a free-trader at heart, but the heightened rhetoric on NAFTA put forth by both he and Clinton opened the Democrats up to accusations of political pandering from Republicans and editorial boards.
In February, Obama said during a presidential debate in Cleveland that job losses brought about by NAFTA were "devastating on the community." He told the Associated Press that same month that "I don't think NAFTA has been good for America, and I never have."
Fortune asked Obama if his trade rhetoric was "overheated and amplified."
"Politicians are always guilty of that, and I don't exempt myself," Obama responded.
In the interview, Obama did emphasize that "there are costs to free trade" and that "can't pretend that those costs aren't real." Obama said job losses caused by free trade feed "the protectionist sentiment and the anti-immigration sentiment that is out there in both parties."
Obama also walked back his threat in February to unilaterally renegotiate NAFTA.
"I'm not a big believer in doing things unilaterally," Obama said, adding that he had just spoken to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who expressed concern about the free trade debate in February and March. "I'm a big believer in opening up a dialogue and figuring out how we can make this work for all people."
Obama's rival John McCain travels to Ottawa tomorrow, but Harper will be out of town, according to reports.