Taking a swipe at a potential GOP presidential rival, Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton on Saturday criticized Fred Thompson for suggesting illegal Cuban immigrants pose a terrorist threat.
"I was appalled when one of the people running for or about to run for the Republican nomination talked about Cuban refugees as potential terrorists," Clinton told Hispanic elected officials. "Apparently he doesn't have a lot of experience in Florida or anywhere else, and doesn't know a lot of Cuban-Americans."
Thompson, who is polling strongly among GOP primary voters and is expected to join the race soon, made the comment at a campaign stop Wednesday in South Carolina.
The actor and former Tennessee senator was criticizing an immigration bill in the Senate, contending it would make the country more vulnerable to terrorism.
Noting that the United States had apprehended 1,000 people from Cuba in 2005, Thompson said, "I don't imagine they're coming here to bring greetings from Castro. We're living in the era of the suitcase bomb." Fidel Castro is Cuba's leader.
A video clip of Thompson's remark immediately circulated on YouTube and has drawn considerable attention in Florida, a key early primary state home to many Republican-leaning Cuban Americans.
Thompson spokeswoman Burson Snyder declined to comment Saturday, pointing to a note Thompson posted Thursday on his campaign blog saying he had been referring to Cuban spies, not immigrants. "Our national security is too important an issue to let folks twist words around for a one-day headline," Thompson said in his post. "Cuban-Americans are among the staunchest opponents of illegal immigration, and especially so when it's sponsored by the Castro regime."
All the major Democratic presidential candidates were at Walt Disney World for a forum sponsored by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. Of the GOP candidates, only California Rep. Duncan Hunter accepted the group's invitation to speak.
With the failure of an immigration reform bill in the Senate still fresh, all the candidates vowed to pursue comprehensive immigration reform in the future. All said they support a path to citizenship for the 12 million immigrants living illegally in the U.S.
Illinois Sen. Barack Obama defended his vote last year to build a 700-mile fence across the U.S.-Mexican border, saying it was just one component of a robust immigration bill he had worked hard to negotiate.
"Nobody has been a more consistent supporter of comprehensive immigration reform than I have been," Obama said. "Do I believe fences make good neighbors and are the right approach? No, I don't believe that."
Clinton and Delaware Sen. Joe Biden also voted for the bill containing the fence provision.