Bill Clinton fighting race criticisms

March 17, 2008 12:51:33 PM PDT
Former President Clinton is pushing back on criticism that he fanned racial tension while campaigning for his wife in South Carolina.

In an interview with ABC's "Good Morning America" broadcast Monday, Clinton said he had gotten a "bum rap" from the news media after he compared Democratic Sen. Barack Obama's landslide victory in South Carolina's Jan. 26 primary to Jesse Jackson's wins in the state in 1984 and 1988. Clinton was widely criticized for appearing to cast Obama as little more than a black candidate popular in a state with a heavily black electorate.

"They made up a race story out of that," Clinton said of the news media, calling the story "a bizarre spin."

He made similar comments on CNN's "American Morning," calling the notion that he had unfairly criticized Obama in South Carolina as "a total myth and a mugging."

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

At an MTV forum for college journalists Saturday, Clinton said he knew as soon as Obama won Iowa's caucuses Jan. 3 that he was on his way to wrapping up a large majority of black voters in other primary states.

"Iowa happened. The minute it became possible that he could be the nominee, he was going to win the lion's share of the African-American vote," Clinton said. "And I never begrudged it."

He added, "Contrary to the myth, I went through South Carolina and never said a bad word about Senator Obama - not one."

In South Carolina, the former president angrily lectured reporters, arguing that they were going easy on Obama while subjecting Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton to unfair scrutiny.

"I never heard a word of public complaint when Mr. Obama said Hillary was not truthful," that she had "no character, was poll-driven," Bill Clinton said earlier this year. "He had more pollsters than she did. ... When he put out a hit job on me at the same time he called her the senator from Punjab, I never said a word."

He was referring to an Obama campaign memo from last summer that criticized Sen. Clinton's ties to India, referring to her as the "Democrat from Punjab." The former president's reference to a "hit job" evidently had to do with documents the Obama campaign once circulated questioning the former president's financial dealings.

Campaigning for his wife in New Hampshire earlier in January, Bill Clinton called Obama's opposition to the Iraq war a "fairy tale."