Obama takes heat for skipping State of the Black Union From Sean Callebs
NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (CNN) -- The annual State of the Black Union forum boasted a number of famous attendees in New Orleans on Saturday, but this year's event received much more attention for who wasn't there.
Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-New York, was the only major presidential candidate to accept an invitation to attend.
Her rival, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, declined, as did Republican presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain of Arizona.
Clinton told the crowd Saturday evening the country stands at a historic moment.
"How many of our parents and our grandparents, and how many of us ever thought we would see the day when a woman or an African-American would be the Democratic nominee for president of the United States," she said. Watch Clinton address the forum »
But Clinton also acknowledged experiencing "painful moments" during the campaign, which she called very challenging and incredibly competitive.
"The high stakes and historic nature of Sen. Obama's candidacy and mine have invested this campaign with an intensity and an excitement seldom seen in the political arena," she said.
Meanwhile, Obama's absence at the forum has prompted both controversy and a backlash against Tavis Smiley, the organizer of the event who has openly criticized Obama's decision.
In a letter to Smiley earlier this month, Obama commended the forum for addressing important issues, but explained he needed to focus on his presidential run ahead of the critical March 4 primaries.
"In the final stretch, I will be on the campaign trail every day in states like Ohio, Texas and Wisconsin talking directly with voters about the causes that are at the heart of my campaign and the State of the Black Union forum," Obama wrote.
"That is why, with regret, I am not able to attend the forum." Watch the candidates stump in Texas »
Smiley has been vocal about his disapproval of Obama's decision.
"I think it's a missed opportunity on Mr. Obama's part," Smiley told CNN. "Now, I am not interested in demonizing him for his choice, but I do disagree with it." Watch a report on the controversy »
But Smiley's criticism has also prompted many people to come to Obama's defense. The talk show host told The Washington Post he has been inundated with angry e-mails and even death threats.
"I have family in Indianapolis. They are harassing my momma, harassing my brother. It's getting to be crazy," Smiley told the newspaper.
Several forum attendees seemed unfazed by Obama's absence Saturday.
"Personally, I don't think it's much of an issue," said Victor Reed. "I'm standing behind him 100 percent."
Clinton probably was at the event because "she needs it more than [Obama] right now," he added.
And there you have it with regards to the last paragraph.
It's ridiculous how Tavis is receiving death threats. It's even worse that threats are being leveled at his loved ones.