The increasingly fractious parrying between the two main contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination took another angry turn yesterday as Barack Obama lashed out at the former president Bill Clinton, accusing him of lying about him in campaign appearances on behalf of his wife.
"You know the former president, who I think all of us have a lot of regard for, has taken his advocacy on behalf of his wife to a level that I think is pretty troubling," Mr Obama said in a breakfast interview with the ABC network, saying Mr Clinton had made statements "not supported by the facts".
The stinging remarks came as both candidates plunged into intensive campaigning in South Carolina, which holds its primary vote on Saturday. A win in the state may be vital for Mr Obama, who has been robbed of momentum after successive losses in New Hampshire and, at the weekend, in Nevada.
Mr Clinton is a popular figure with the Democrat mainstream and has emerged as potent surrogate on the campaign trail for his wife. Increasingly, however, he has taken on the role of attack dog. On the eve of voting in New Hampshire, most notably, he took aim at Mr Obama's claim that he has been consistent in opposing the Iraq War furiously, calling it the "biggest fairy tale I've ever seen".
The former president played a similar role in often cantankerous exchanges between the two camps ahead of last Saturday's voting in Nevada, with Mr Clinton repeating allegations of strong-arm tactics by union supporters of Mr Obama and pointing to comments made by Mr Obama in a Nevada newspaper paying homage to the former Republican president Ronald Reagan.
"President Clinton went in front of a large group, said that I had claimed that only Republicans had had any good ideas since 1980," Mr Obama said. "And then he added, 'I'm not making this up'. He was making it up and completely mischaracterising my statement."
"He continues to make statements that are not supported by the facts, whether it's about my record of opposition to the war in Iraq or our approach to organising in Las Vegas," Mr Obama complained . "This has become a habit, and one of the things that we're going to have to do is to directly confront Bill Clinton when he's making statements that are not factually accurate."
There was a brisk response from the Clinton campaign yesterday.
"We understand Senator Obama is frustrated by his loss in Nevada, but facts are facts," said a spokesman. "Senator Obama's allies in Nevada engaged in strong-arm tactics and intimidation against our supporters and his record against the war has been inconsistent. President Clinton is a huge asset and will continue to press the case for Senator Clinton."
For his part, Mr Obama conceded that it was natural for Mrs Clinton to look to her husband for support. But he added: "I think it's important that we try to maintain some, you know, level of honesty and candour during the campaign.
"If we don't, then we feed the cynicism that has led so many Americans to be turned off to politics.
"If you have something that just directly contradicts the facts and it's coming from a former president, I think that's a problem, because people presume that a former president is going to have more credibility. And I think there are certain responsibilities that are carried with that."
His grievances about Mr Clinton are likely to remain a theme for Mr Obama as he campaigns across South Carolina, where he will be relying heavily on support from black voters. The Clintons have long enjoyed support from African Americans but recent opinion polls in South Carolina have indicated that a significant majority may transfer their allegiance to Mr Obama on Saturday.
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