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In S. Carolina, it’s Obama vs. (Bill) Clinton

Facing formidable support for Senator Barack Obama in South Carolina, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton is deploying former President Bill Clinton there while she shifts her attention to campaigning in states with nominating contests next month and to raising money.
/ Source: The New York Times

Facing formidable support for Senator Barack Obama in South Carolina, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton is deploying former President Bill Clinton there while she shifts her attention to campaigning in states with nominating contests next month and to raising money.

The strategic shift intensifies a new dynamic in the race: Mrs. Clinton’s campaign this week in South Carolina is essentially running Mr. Clinton against Mr. Obama. The two have been engaged in a war of words, with Mr. Clinton accusing the Obama campaign of voter coercion in the Nevada caucuses, and Mr. Obama saying on Monday that Mr. Clinton had made comments that were “not factually accurate” and that his advocacy for his wife had grown “pretty troubling.”

Mrs. Clinton’s advisers cautioned that she was not writing off South Carolina, which has a Democratic primary on Saturday. It is the last place where Democrats will compete before Feb. 5, when more than 20 states hold nominating contests.

Mrs. Clinton plans to hold events on Thursday, Friday and Saturday in South Carolina. Yet she will spend the next two days campaigning in Arizona, California, New Jersey and New Mexico, which vote on Feb. 5. She will begin a television advertising blitz this week in 10 states with contests on that day. She is also returning Thursday night to New York, another state with a Feb. 5 contest, for two fund-raisers, part of an effort to raise more than $15 million before the coming primaries.

In short, Clinton advisers say, she is pursuing a national campaign strategy that includes South Carolina but that does not elevate the state to the level of critical importance that it usually has in the presidential nominating contest. This reflects the Clinton team’s view that it does not expect to beat Mr. Obama in South Carolina, where he enjoys strong support from black voters, and that it wants to lower expectations there.

“All along we have said this is a battle for delegates,” said Howard Wolfson, a spokesman for Mrs. Clinton, “and we are going to campaign for delegates in South Carolina and across the country.”

Mr. Clinton will be in South Carolina every day until the primary, often joined by his daughter, Chelsea, as he courts fellow Southerners and black voters. He also attended services on Monday at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s old congregation; Mr. Obama spoke there on Sunday.

Mr. Clinton’s campaigning for his wife, which has included some of the most pointed attacks on Mr. Obama and his record on Iraq and other issues, drew criticism at the Ebenezer services on Monday from some Obama supporters, and well as from some black leaders in South Carolina.

“He needs to chill a little bit,” Representative James E. Clyburn, a powerful South Carolina Democrat who has not endorsed anyone in the primary, said of Mr. Clinton. As someone who is revered in many parts of the black community, Mr. Clyburn said, the former president “can afford to tone it down.”

Mr. Clinton has drawn particular criticism for saying, just before Mrs. Clinton’s victory in the New Hampshire primary, that Mr. Obama’s depiction of his steady opposition to the Iraq war was “a fairy tale,” given that Mr. Obama voted for a time for Iraq war financing and once indicated that he was not sure how he would have voted on authorizing military action in Iraq.

At the Ebenezer congregation on Monday, an Obama supporter, Mayor Shirley Franklin of Atlanta, appeared to take a shot at Mr. Clinton over that comment as he sat a few feet away.

“In this beautiful, all-American morning,” Ms. Franklin said, “we are at the cusp of turning the impossible into reality. Yes, this is reality, no fantasy or fairy tale.”

Mr. Wolfson, the Clinton spokesman, said Mr. Clinton’s comments about Mr. Obama had been based on his public record and on voter complaints about pressure tactics in Nevada.

“The Obama campaign is clearly feeling frustrated at losing New Hampshire and Nevada and is lashing out at Bill Clinton,” Mr. Wolfson said. “But facts are fact, and everything the president said is true.”

The Clintons have also assailed Mr. Obama for praising President Ronald Reagan and remarking upon the Republican Party’s dominance in past policy debates — even though Mr. Obama was not endorsing those policies and was limiting his praise to Reagan’s communication abilities (something the Clintons have previously praised).

“If folks are looking for more of the same in Washington, this is a terrific example of how the Clinton campaign is doing a more than adequate job of demonstrating their commitment to the same old game-playing,” said an Obama spokesman, Bill Burton. “These attacks are demonstrably false.”

The Clinton campaign has gone to some lengths to assure South Carolina supporters that Mrs. Clinton is not abandoning the state; she appeared in Columbia at a celebration of Dr. King, though a flight delay prevented her from taking part in a march beforehand.

One high-level Clinton supporter in South Carolina said that at a meeting Monday morning, Clinton officials offered assurances that “we’ll have all the resources” to wage a full campaign.

Joe Erwin, who was the chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party when the state was given its early position in the presidential nominating calendar, said he was troubled by Mrs. Clinton’s decision.

“Across the state, so many undecided voters were hoping to see the candidates up close and personal,” said Mr. Erwin, an Obama supporter. “It’s disappointing.”

Clinton supporters said that given the compressed primary schedule Mrs. Clinton could not devote all of her time to South Carolina.

Just days before the South Carolina primary, the contest was rapidly expanding beyond the state’s borders. Mr. Obama on Monday became the first candidate to begin advertising nationally, on cable television networks.

The advertisement drew criticism from the Clinton campaign, which accused its rival of breaking a pledge signed by Democratic candidates to avoid campaigning in Florida because the timing of its primary violated rules of the Democratic National Committee.

David Plouffe, campaign manger for Mr. Obama, said it was impossible to buy national advertising on cable television without including Florida.

Brenda Goodman contributed reporting from Atlanta; Katharine Q. Seelye from Charleston, S.C.; and Jeff Zeleny from Columbia, S.C.