WASHINGTON — Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton argued on Tuesday that Barack Obama's frustration with losing prompted him to look for a fight in their latest debate. Obama said his rival and her husband, former President Clinton, were distorting his record.
“I think it’s very clear that Senator Clinton … and the president have been spending the last month attacking me in ways that are not accurate,” Obama told reporters in a conference call shortly after she lashed out at him in a bitter exchange that carried over from Monday night’s debate.
Speaking to reporters in Washington, Hillary Clinton belittled Obama’s line of debate criticism against her as “rehearsed points.”
“I think what we saw last night was that he’s very frustrated,” she said. “I believe that the events of the last 10 or so days, the outcome of New Hampshire and Nevada, have apparently convinced him to adopt a different strategy.”
Former President Clinton said Tuesday he enjoyed the bickering.
“I know you think it’s crazy, but I kind of like to see Barack and Hillary fight,” Bill Clinton told a mostly white crowd of about 300 at a black church in Greenville, S.C. “They’re flesh and blood people and they have their differences — let them have it.”
Asked whether he thought his legacy among blacks would be harmed by challenging Obama, Clinton said he wasn’t standing in Obama’s way but rather advocating for his wife.
“I think it would be just as much a change, some people think more, to have the first woman president than to have the first African-American president,” Bill Clinton said.
In the debate in Myrtle Beach, S.C., the two leading Democrats argued bitterly and in personal terms over issues such as Iraq and Bill Clinton’s role in the campaign.
“He clearly came last night looking for a fight. He was determined and launched right in,” Hillary Clinton said. “And I thought it was important to set the record straight.”
She restated her argument that Obama was unwilling to answer hard questions about his record, including his opposition to the Iraq war, his support for military budgets and his “present” votes as a member of the Illinois Legislature.
Obama countered that this was all part of Clinton’s strategy.
“Senator Clinton announced while we were still in Iowa that this was going to be her strategy and called it the fun part of campaigning. And, you know, I don’t think it’s the fun part to fudge the truth,” he said. “The necessary part of this campaign is to make sure that we’re getting accurate information to voters about people’s respective records.”
The bickering brought new calls for calm from former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, running third among Democratic contenders. “There was a lot of squabbling,” Edwards told reporters in a conference call Tuesday. “While Senator Clinton and Senator Obama were hurling charges and countercharges at each other, I was thinking, ‘I’m John Edwards and I represent the grown-up wing of the Democratic Party.’”
During an economic speech in Greenville, S.C., Obama accused Clinton of taking politically expedient positions inconsistent with her record. The Illinois senator put an unflattering twist on her contention that she is the candidate most ready to be president from the first day.
“We can’t afford a president whose positions change with the politics of the moment. We need a president who knows that being ready on Day One means getting it right from Day One,” Obama said as he received the only standing ovation of his speech.
The New York senator defended her husband’s aggressive criticism of Obama. She said it did not contradict the former president’s role as senior statesman and party leader.
“I can tell you that never crossed our minds. That’s not how we think,” she said. “It has absolutely nothing to do with a unified Democratic Party around a nominee and a full support for whoever our Democratic president will be. That is just the way it works.”
The Obama campaign began a “truth squad” in South Carolina to respond to negative criticism. Involved in the effort was former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota.
People in South Carolina “don’t want to see this backbiting, bitter give-and-take that we’re beginning to see more and more of, especially from the Clinton campaign. It’s wrong, everybody knows it’s wrong and it's got to stop,” Daschle told reporters on a conference call.
"Ultimately, it's going to divide us. And it's going to have a huge effect, a lasting effect if it doesn't stop soon."
Asked about Bill Clinton's actions, Daschle said, "It's not presidential. It's not in keeping with the image of a former president."
Hillary Clinton, in her comments with reporters, rejected the notion she had used patronizing or racially charged language against Obama. She has called him, among other things, a "talented" and "young African-American man."
Clinton traveled to Salinas, Calif., to accept the backing of the United Farm Workers Union, which represents a heavily Hispanic work force. It is active in 10 states and represents 27,000 farm workers.
Clinton won Nevada's presidential caucuses Saturday in part because of a strong showing among Hispanic voters — a central part of her strategy to win several states holding contests Feb. 5, including California, Arizona and New Mexico.
Associated Press writers Nedra Pickler and Mike Baker in South Carolina and Ann Sanner in Washington contributed to this report.