Story Highlights• Biden called Obama first "clean" African-American candidate
• Biden said comments were taken out of context
• Obama not offended by comments but called them "historically inaccurate"
• Jesse Jackson said comments were "highly suggestive" but not "off-color"
From Xuan Thai and Ted Barrett
CNN Washington Bureau
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. Joe Biden planned to spend Wednesday focusing on his official announcement that he was running for president, but the Delaware Democrat instead found himself defending remarks he made to the New York Observer about his Democratic opponents.
In the article published Wednesday, Biden is quoted evaluating presidential rivals Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-New York, former Sen. John Edwards, D-North Carolina, and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois. His remarks about Obama, the only African-American serving in the Senate, drew the most scrutiny.
"I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy," Biden said. "I mean, that's a storybook, man." (Watch Biden's comments and Obama's reaction )
Biden issued a statement Wednesday afternoon, saying: "I deeply regret any offense my remark in the New York Observer might have caused anyone. That was not my intent and I expressed that to Sen. Obama."
Biden also spoke to reporters in a conference call Wednesday afternoon and said the remark was taken out of context.
"Barack Obama is probably the most exciting candidate that the Democratic or Republican Party has produced at least since I've been around," Biden said on the call. "And he's fresh. He's new. He's smart. He's insightful. And I really regret that some have taken totally out of context my use of the world 'clean.'"
Biden said he was referring to a phrase used by his mother.
"My mother has an expression: clean as a whistle, sharp as a tack," Biden said.
Obama, in a brief off-camera interview in a Senate hallway, said he thinks Biden "didn't intend to offend" anyone.
"He called me," Obama said. "I told him it wasn't necessary. We have got more important things to worry about. We have got Iraq. We have got health care. We have got energy. This is low on the list."
"He was very gracious and I have no problem with Joe Biden," Obama added.
Later on Wednesday, Obama, in a written statement, said "I didn't take Sen. Biden's comments personally, but obviously they were historically inaccurate. African-American presidential candidates like Jesse Jackson, Shirley Chisholm, Carol Moseley Braun and Al Sharpton gave a voice to many important issues through their campaigns, and no one would call them inarticulate."
Comment muddles launch of exploratory committee
Earlier in the day, Biden had officially filed the necessary paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to launch a presidential campaign. Biden ran for the White House in 1988, but pulled out of the race before the first votes were cast.
During the conference call, Biden told reporters he decided to seek the Democratic presidential nomination because of his frustration with President Bush's stewardship of the country.
"I'm running because I believe this administration has dug a very deep hole in terms of both our foreign policy and domestic policy," Biden said.
But during the call, reporters kept returning to the issue of his remarks.
In addition to Obama downplaying the comments, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who also ran for president in 1988, also said he did not think Biden was being racist. However, Jackson did say that he called Biden to talk to him about it.
"Knowing Joe Biden the way I do, I'm sure he didn't mean it as off-color, but it is certainly highly suggestive," Jackson said in an interview with CNN.
Biden has made other questionable comments. In a June 2006 appearance in New Hampshire, the senator commented on the growth of the Indian-American population in Delaware by saying, "You cannot go into a 7-11 or a Dunkin' Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. Oh, I'm not joking."
Two months later, responding to a question in an August interview on Fox News Sunday, Biden was asked how a "Northeast liberal" could compete against more conservative southern candidates.
"Better than everybody else. You don't know my state. My state was a slave state. My state is a border state. My state is the eighth largest black population in the country. My state is anything from a northeast liberal state," Biden said.
He repeated the comment during a visit to South Carolina in December 2006 at an event before the Columbia Rotary Club, according to a story published in The State newspaper. The State reported that Biden referred to Delaware as a "slave state that fought beside the North. That's only because we couldn't figure out how to get to the South. There were a couple of states in the way."
Senators Joseph Biden, left, and Barack Obama talk during the Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Iraq on Wednesday.