Washington — Democrats cut and ran from Sen. John Kerry Wednesday, forcing him to apologize for bungling a joke that ended up insulting U.S. troops in Iraq.
The Democratic senator from Massachusetts issued a mea culpa for a botched punch line that it's the uneducated who "get stuck in Iraq."
But the apology didn't come until Democrats, including potential 2008 rival Sen. Hillary Clinton, joined a chorus of Republicans dumping on the flubbed one-liner that was apparently meant to insult President Bush.
"What Sen. Kerry said was inappropriate," said Clinton, D-N.Y., on the campaign trail Wednesday.
Even Kerry's friend, radio host Dom Imus, told him he'd bungled it and could hurt Democrats' chances of taking back the House and Senate in next week's elections.
"Stop talking. Go home, get on the bike, go windsurfing, anything," Imus said. "Stop it. You are going to ruin this."
Kerry issued a statement saying he was sorry not long after that.
"I sincerely regret that my words were misinterpreted to wrongly imply anything negative about those in uniform, and I personally apologize to any service member, family member or American who was offended," he said. "I don't want my verbal slip to be a diversion from the real issues. I will continue to fight for a change of course to provide real security for our country and a winning strategy for our troops."
Clinton had offered similar sentiments, suggesting the brouhaha's unpleasant reminders of the 2004 election were distracting from Democrats' push to retake the House and Senate in 2006.
"I believe we can't let it divert us from looking at the issues that are at stake in our country," she said. "No one wants to see the 2004 election replayed - that's about the past."
Kerry had already pulled out of campaign stops in Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Iowa. A statement said he didn't want the "Republican hate machine" to use the candidates "as proxies in their distorted spin war."
Republicans, who gleefully attacked Kerry as a welcome distraction from their own electoral woes, appeared satisfied by Kerry's apology.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Kerry's apology " came late but it was the right thing to do."
Earlier, House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, had a harsh threat for the senator. "If he's not going to apologize, we're going to beat him to death until he does," he told Fox News.