updated 4/15/2008 5:12:01 AM ET 2008-04-15T09:12:01

The billionaire founder of Black Entertainment Television says Barack Obama would not be a leading presidential candidate if he were white and that the Illinois senator's campaign has "a hair-trigger on anything racial."

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The Charlotte Observer reported on its Web site Monday that Bob Johnson, one of Hillary Rodham Clinton's top black supporters, was commenting on remarks previously made by Geraldine Ferraro, another Clinton supporter.

"What I believe Geraldine Ferraro meant is that if you take a freshman senator from Illinois called 'Jerry Smith' and he says I'm going to run for president, would he start off with 90 percent of the black vote?" Johnson said. "And the answer is, probably not."

"Geraldine Ferraro said it right," Johnson added. "The problem is, Geraldine Ferraro is white. This campaign has such a hair-trigger on anything racial it is almost impossible for anybody to say anything."

Ferraro, a Democratic candidate for vice president in 1984, stepped down last month as an adviser to Clinton amid controversy over comments she made to the Daily Breeze newspaper in Torrance, Calif. "If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position," Ferraro said. "And if he was a woman (of any color) he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept."

'Absurd comments'
Obama campaign spokesman Dan Leistikow called Johnson's remarks "just one in a long line of absurd comments by Bob Johnson and other Clinton supporters who will say or do anything to get the nomination. The American people are tired of this and are ready to turn the page on these kind of attack politics."

Johnson is a longtime friend of both Hillary Clinton and former President Bill Clinton.

In January, Johnson seemed to refer to Obama's acknowledged teenage drug use while introducing Clinton at a South Carolina event. He said the Clintons "have been deeply and emotionally involved in black issues — when Barack Obama was doing something in the neighborhood; I won't say what he was doing, but he said it in his book — when they have been involved."

Obama wrote about his youthful drug use — marijuana, alcohol and sometimes cocaine — in his memoir, "Dreams From My Father." Johnson later denied that he was talking about Obama using drugs.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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