INDEPENDENCE, Mo. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said Monday he will never question others' patriotism during the race and blames his own "carelessness" for some criticism of him so far.
Obama sought to reassure voters about his commitment to the country, choosing the aptly named town of Independence as his backdrop.
Questions about his patriotism were raised during the Democratic nomination fight, and Obama recently started wearing a flag pin on his lapel in one attempt to answer them. But a weeklong focus on American values in the run-up to Friday's July 4 holiday represents his most concerted effort so far to do so.
Obama said he chose the topic in part because of his experience during the race, even though he has always considered his love of country a given and his inspiration for running for office.
"I have found, for the first time, my patriotism challenged at times as a result of my own carelessness, more often as a result of the desire by some to score political points and raise fears about who I am and what I stand for," he said before a crowd of a few hundred people at the Truman Memorial Building here. "I will never question the patriotism of others in this campaign. And I will not stand idly by when I hear others question mine."
Obama also sought to tamp down controversy surrounding comments over the weekend from a supporter. Retired Gen. Wesley Clark said in a television appearance that the Vietnam War-era military service of John McCain, Obama's Republican opponent, does not necessarily qualify him to be commander in chief.
McCain was a fighter pilot who was captured and held as a prisoner of war for more than five years.
Obama said that patriotism "must, if it is to mean anything, involve the willingness to sacrifice" and sought to distance himself from Clark's remarks without mentioning them.
"For those like John McCain who have endured physical torment in service to our country no further proof of such sacrifice is necessary," Obama said. "And let me also add that no one should ever devalue that service, especially for the sake of a political campaign, and that goes for supporters on both sides."
The comment drew loud applause.
At a news conference in Harrisburg, Pa., McCain was asked about Clark's comments.
"I think that that kind of thing is unnecessary," McCain said. "I'm proud of my record of service, I have plenty of friends, leaders who will attest to that.
"The important thing is if that's the kind of campaign Senator Obama and his surrogates and supporters want to engage in, I understand that. But it doesn't reduce the price of gas by one penny. It doesn't achieve our energy independence or make it come any closer. Doesn't make any American stay in their home who's at risk of losing it today. And it certainly doesn't do anything to address the challenges Americans have in keeping their jobs, homes and supporting their families."
Separately, in a statement, Obama spokesman Bill Burton said, "As he's said many times before, Sen. Obama honors and respects Senator McCain's service, and of course he rejects yesterday's statement by Gen. Clark."