Clintons vs. Obama: Fairytale deteriorates into Nightmare

January 24, 2008 12:49:55 PM PST
It started with dismissive talk of a fairy tale and deteriorated into more of a nightmare.

As he campaigns for his wife's presidential run, Bill Clinton has been taking aim at her rival Barack Obama and the media with increasing rancor, trading the roles of elder statesman and supportive spouse for that of attack dog.

Obama has joined in, going after the former president with increasingly heated criticism.

Bill Clinton, campaigning in South Carolina, complained Wednesday that Obama had put out a "hit job" on him. He didn't explain what that meant.

"Shame on you!" he scolded a reporter who asked about the racial dynamics of the campaign in South Carolina. Clinton himself has repeatedly discussed the racial issue.

Leading political figures supporting both Hillary Rodham Clinton and Obama have complained that things have gotten out of hand.

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, who endorsed Clinton on Wednesday, made a plea for "less acrimony" among the rivals.

Former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle, who backs Obama, called for an end to the "backbiting," particularly from Clinton's campaign.

By Thursday, it was left to an ordinary voter to call for a time out.

At a morning campaign stop by Bill Clinton just outside Columbia, S.C., a Clinton supporter asked the campaign to "stop taking the bait from Obama" and stick to the issues.

The former president called it "pretty good advice. It's probably good advice for me, too," he said.

Hillary Clinton, for her part, found herself defending her husband when she would rather have been talking about her plans for U.S. financial markets.

"We're in a very heated campaign, and people are coming out and saying all kinds of things," she said in an interview late Wednesday. "I'm out there every day making a positive case for my candidacy. I have a lot of wonderful people, including my husband, who are out there making the case for me."

Obama, for his part, hasn't hesitated to hit hard at Bill Clinton as well as his wife.

The former president, Obama said earlier this week, "has taken his advocacy on behalf of his wife to a level that I think is pretty troubling."

How did it come to this?

Surely, part of it is the enormous stress of a hard-fought presidential campaign.

Phil Singer, a Clinton campaign spokesman, explaining Clinton's reference to an Obama "hit job," said that the Obama campaign had circulated documents questioning the former president's financial dealings.

But Bill Clinton has survived more campaign rough-and-tumble than perhaps anyone on the modern stage, and is one of the most astute politicians around.

He said Thursday that it's a lot harder to hear people criticize his wife than it ever was to be the target himself.

"When I was running, I didn't give a rip what anybody said about me," he told a crowd of about 200 people in Lexington, S.C. "It's weird, you know, but if you love somebody and you think that they'd be good, it's harder."

Clinton's words against Obama sharpened when the campaign reached South Carolina, where Democrats vote on Saturday and Obama is leading in the polls. But the trend got its start on the eve of the leadoff New Hampshire primary, when Obama had just won Iowa and the former president accused him of misrepresenting himself on the Iraq war.

"Gimme me a break," Clinton said. "This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale that I have ever seen."

--- (Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)