Presidential candidate Barack Obama accused former President Bill Clinton of distorting his words as the Democratic race in South Carolina heated up on Monday.
Meanwhile, Republican presidential hopefuls kept their focus on economics as they began campaigning for the Jan. 29 primary in Florida.
Obama, who was edged out by the ex-president's wife Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Saturday caucuses in Nevada, had harsh words for Bill Clinton, who is beloved in many Democratic circles — including among many blacks, who could be key to a win in South Carolina's weekend primary.
The former president "has taken his advocacy on behalf of his wife to a level that I think is pretty troubling" by making statement that are not supported by facts, Obama said in an interview broadcast Monday on ABC's "Good Morning America."
The Clinton campaign has suggested it would continue pointing out inconsistencies in Obama's record.
Florida GOP win nets 57 delegates
Republicans are preparing for delegate-rich Florida, where the race remains wide open despite John McCain's recent wins in South Carolina and New Hampshire. A win in Florida would afford the candidate a whopping 57 delegates and a huge jolt of energy in the run-up to Feb. 5, when 22 states hold nominating contests.
Clinton and Obama have been locked in a fierce battle for the party's nomination in a history-making campaign that pits a black man and a woman. Obama won the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses and Clinton emerged triumphant in New Hampshire, five days later.
Their campaign has vacillated between congenial exchanges, a dispute on race and, before Nevada's contest Saturday, charges of dirty politics. So far, no clear front-runner has emerged, making the Jan. 26 contest in South Carolina, where blacks make up about 50 percent of the Democratic electorate, particularly important going into the Feb. 5 de facto national primary.
Trailing candidate John Edwards is looking to make the Democratic contest a three-way race with a strong showing in South Carolina, which neighbors his home state of North Carolina.
Edwards got 4 percent of support in Nevada, compared with Clinton's 51 percent and Obama's 45 percent.
Obama counts on S.C. blacks
On Sunday, Obama took to the pulpit at Martin Luther King Jr.'s Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on the eve of the federal holiday marking the civil rights hero's birth 79 years ago. He based his speech on King's quote that "Unity is the great need of the hour."
Obama is counting on blacks to stick with him in South Carolina to halt his losing streak in the last two state races, and his campaign has worked to overcome concerns among black voters that he would not be able to win an election in white America. He lost Nevada despite winning 83 percent of blacks, who made up 15 percent of the total vote.
He also has been stepping up his effort to correct the misconception that he is a Muslim, now that the presidential campaign has hit the U.S. Bible Belt in the South.
"I've been to the same church — the same Christian church — for almost 20 years," Obama said at a South Carolina rally. "I was sworn in with my hand on the family Bible. Whenever I'm in the United States Senate, I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America."
An e-mail chain has suggested he is hiding his Islamic roots. It says he was sworn into the Senate on the Quran and turns his back on the flag during the pledge.
Clinton on Sunday appeared in Harlem, the largely black New York City neighborhood where her husband opened an office. Bill Clinton carried the support of blacks in his campaigns and his wife hoped for the same.
The Rev. Calvin Butts, a supporter of the former first lady, introduced her at a service in the Abyssinian Baptist Church as someone who "has been our friend" before officially endorsing her. As dozens of Obama supporters shouted "Harlem for Obama," Clinton's supporters tried to drown them out by shouting "Hil-la-ry!"
Clinton spoke warmly of her opponent saying, "I recognize what a challenging choice this is."
Obama's and Clinton's campaigns engaged in several days of back and forth after some interpreted her comments about King as minimizing his role in the passage of landmark civil rights legislation. The two candidates called a truce on that issue last week.
The Republican race was no easier for that party's candidates.
Mitt Romney, the Mormon millionaire who coasted to a largely uncontested win in Nevada's Republican primary Saturday, and Rudy Giuliani wasted no time in heaping criticism on McCain. Their jabs, in line with the recession worries that have come to dominate the race, were couched in economic terms.
Giuliani, who has yet to win a primary and has staked his candidacy on Florida, attacked McCain for siding with Democrats in voting against Bush's tax cuts in 2001 and 2003. Romney, buoyed by wins in Nevada, Michigan and Wyoming, portrayed the Arizona senator as a consummate Washington insider.
McCain now says he supports making the tax cuts permanent because doing otherwise would amount to a tax increase. He struck back at Giuliani, chiding the former New York City mayor at a news conference for his 0-6 record in the early primaries and caucuses.
The Arizona senator defeated preacher-turned-politician Mike Huckabee in South Carolina, a bastion of conservatism. McCain had 33 percent of the vote to just under 30 percent for his closest rival. He won 19 delegates to the national convention that will choose the party candidates, to five for Huckabee.
Former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson trailed in third in South Carolina, where the former "Law & Order" star had needed a strong showing.
The jabs reflected the stakes going into Florida where polls show McCain, Giuliani, Romney and Huckabee bunched together. Three candidates have won contests in six states thus far, making for no clear front-runner.