COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Democratic presidential hopefuls Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton are stumping in South Carolina ahead of Saturday's primary vote here, with the Obama camp intent on neutralizing Clinton's chief surrogate, her husband, Bill, as he takes on the role of her negative hit man.
"So when I see, you know, Sen. Clinton or President Clinton distort my words, say somehow that I was saying Republicans were the only ones who had good ideas since 1980 ... that is not the way to move the debate forward,'' said Obama, who received a thunderous reception at a rally at the Columbia Convention Center on Sunday night.
» Click to enlarge image Bill Clinton introduces his wife and presidential candidate, Sen. Hillary Clinton, at a rally in Las Vegas on Friday, the day before the Nevada caucuses.
He was more blunt in an ABC "Good Morning America" interview airing this morning. "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," Obama said. "He continues to make statements that are not supported by the facts."
Clinton spokesman Phil Singer said: "President Clinton is a huge asset to our campaign and will continue talking to the American people to press the case for Sen. Clinton.
"Of course, Sen. Clinton and Sen. Obama are the candidates on the ballot, and she is winning because she is giving voice to the Americans who will provide real solutions to the challenges they face in the daily lives."
At the rally, Obama made a preemptive strike in South Carolina after being slammed by the Clinton operation for praising Ronald Reagan in a Nevada newspaper interview. A larger issue for his campaign is Bill Clinton's popularity among African Americans in a state where blacks will make up at least half the vote and Bill Clinton's willingness to go on the attack for his wife.
Reagan brought in "Reagan Republicans" to the GOP, said Obama, and "what I said was, we as Democrats right now should tap into the discontent of Republicans. I want some Obama Republicans! Say, say Obamacans! So I didn't say I liked Ronald Reagan's policies; what I said was that was the kind of working majority we need to form in order to move a progressive agenda forward."
David Axelrod, Obama's chief strategist, referring to Bill Clinton, said there was "a strategy for him to carry the negative message for her," promising a more aggressive response. In the hard-hitting Nevada contest, the Obama team was not "fast enough" in terms of "hitting back," Axelrod said.
For Obama, the final lap of the South Carolina contest started in Atlanta on Sunday at Ebenezer Baptist Church, the home pulpit of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Today, when the nation celebrates the birth of the murdered civil rights giant, Bill Clinton speaks from the same sanctuary.