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Clinton says Obama 'looking for a fight'

Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton on Tuesday accused Barack Obama of "looking for a fight" in their rancorous debate and suggested her presidential rival acted out of frustration over primary campaign losses in New Hampshire and Nevada.
Clinton 2008
Presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., during a news conference in Washington TuesdayElise Amendola / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton argued on Tuesday that Barack Obama's frustration with losing prompted him to look for a fight in the debate while Obama asserted that his rival and her husband, former President Clinton, were repeatedly 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," the Illinois senator told reporters in a conference call shortly after Clinton lashed out at him in a bitter exchange that carried over from Monday night.

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."

The morning after the debate, the back-and-forth between the two leading Democrats continued unabated. The two had argued bitterly and in personal terms at Monday night's debate in Myrtle Beach, S.C., over issues such as the Iraq war and Bill Clinton's role in the campaign.

"He clearly came — he telegraphed it, he talked about it — 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, from his opposition to the Iraq war but support for military budgets to 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."

During an economic speech in Greenville, S.C., Obama accused Clinton of taking politically expedient positions inconsistent with her record and he 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, saying it didn't contradict the former president's role as senior statesman and Democratic Party leader. Obama has recently complained about Bill Clinton's role and suggested he has repeatedly misrepresented Obama's record.

"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 former president defended the criticism that he and his wife have leveled at Obama.

"I think this is a great field, and we're going to have a few arguments — it's a contact sport," Bill Clinton said at a restaurant in Columbia, S.C., with a few dozen supporters and breakfasters.

The former president said nothing his wife said during Monday night's debate or by him about Obama had been inaccurate. "I try to be very careful about what I say," he said.

Meanwhile, the Obama campaign launched a "truth squad" in South Carolina to respond to negative criticism. Among the group was former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota.

"They (South Carolinians) 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 former President Clinton's behavior, 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."

"I really cannot strongly enough just reject that," Clinton said. "I think this is totally about us as individuals. He is African American. I am a woman. This obviously brings with it an enormous historical significance on both of our behalfs."

Clinton headed to California Tuesday to accept the backing of the United Farm Workers Union. Founded by famed labor activist Cesar Chavez, the union represents a heavily Hispanic work force. 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.