Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama remains on the defensive about comments he made last week describing small town voters as bitter over their economic plight. Democratic contender Hillary Clinton and Republican candidate John McCain have both accused Obama of being an elitist. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports from Washington.

At the heart of this latest controversy in the Democratic Party nomination fight are comments Senator Obama made last week at a fundraiser in San Francisco.

Obama said many working-class Americans in small towns are bitter because they are frustrated with economic conditions. Obama went on to say that frustration causes them to, in his words, cling to guns or religion and leads to what he called antipathy to people who are not like them.

The Clinton campaign has seized on the comments in recent days as evidence that Obama is an elitist.

Hillary Clinton raised the issue during a speech in Pittsburgh in advance of next week's Pennsylvania primary.

"I do not think he really gets it that people are looking for a president who stands up for you, and not looks down on you," said Hillary Clinton. "And after seven years of Americans feeling invisible to this president, President Bush, it is time that we leveled the playing field."

The presumed Republican presidential nominee, Senator John McCain, also took on Obama over his comments.

McCain told the annual meeting of the Associated Press in Washington that Obama's comments about small town voters were elitist.

"They are the heart and soul of this country, the foundation of our strength and the primary authors of its essential goodness," said John McCain. "They are our inspiration, and I look to them for guidance and strength. No matter their personal circumstances, they believed in this country."

Obama has been engaging in political damage control since the remarks first came to light late last week.

Obama tried to turn the tables on both Clinton and McCain during a speech to steelworkers in Pittsburgh.

"Senator Clinton and Senator McCain seem to be singing from the same hymn book, saying I am out of touch and I am an elitist because I said a lot of folks are bitter about their economic circumstances," said Barack Obama. "Now, it may be that I chose my words badly, it is not the first time and will not be the last. But when I hear my opponents, both of whom spent decades in Washington, saying I am out of touch, it is time to cut through the rhetoric and look at the reality."

The controversy over Obama's comments about small-town voters comes at a time when he is seeking their votes in next Tuesday's Pennsylvania primary. Senator Clinton has done better with white working-class voters in the primaries and caucuses, and she maintains a lead in the polls in Pennsylvania.

Clinton hopes that a convincing win in Pennsylvania could create political momentum for the rest of the primaries into early June and could keep the Democratic race close, right up until the party's national nominating convention in Denver in late August.

Obama is aiming for a close finish in Pennsylvania to keep his lead in the delegate count and protect his stature as the frontrunner for the nomination.