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Clinton's King Comment 'Ill-Advised,' Obama Says

She also complained that her remarks had been taken out of context. "And I think it is such an unfair and unwarranted attempt to, you know, misinterpret and mischaracterize what I've said," she said, at times interrupting moderator Tim Russert.

She stood by former president Bill Clinton's observation last week that the central tenet of Obama's campaign is "the biggest fairy tale I've ever seen," saying it referred only to Obama's Iraq war position and not his standing as a candidate. Some African American commentators have pressed her to explain her husband's statement.

Clinton argued that Obama has failed to follow up his 2002 antiwar rhetoric with votes; he voted, she said, for the same Iraq war funding that she has supported.

"Look, if you are running for president based primarily on a speech you gave in 2002 and speeches you have given since, most notably at the Democratic convention, then I think it is fair to say we need to know more beyond the words," Clinton said. "By 2004, Tim, by the summer of 2004, Senator Obama said he wasn't sure how he would have voted. And when you asked him about that, he said, well, he didn't want to say something that could have hurt our nominees, Senator Kerry and Senator Edwards. Well, the fact is, he's always said he doesn't take positions for political reasons. That is a political explanation. If he was against the war in 2002, he should've strongly spoke out in 2004."

The stated purpose of the conference call in which Obama addressed Clinton's comments was to announce an endorsement from Sen. Claire McCaskill (Mo.), the latest in a series of endorsements that Obama has rolled out since his second-place finish in New Hampshire.

Later in the day, another Obama ally, Sen. Richard J. Durbin (Ill.), spoke with reporters in defense of Obama's antiwar record while challenging Clinton's assertion on "Meet the Press" that the 2002 authorization vote, which Clinton supported, was intended as a means for sending inspectors back into Iraq and was not tantamount to giving President Bush a free hand to invade the country.

"Those of us voting on it that October night took it very seriously," Durbin said. The invasion of Iraq as a consequence of the vote "was a very realistic option," he said.

For the first time, former senator John Edwards (N.C.) also weighed in on a dispute that is rapidly consuming the dialogue among the top three Democratic presidential candidates in the most diverse campaign in history. All three are dueling for votes in South Carolina, where the Democratic primary is set to take place on Jan. 26 -- and where the party's electorate is about half African American.

"As someone who grew up in the segregated South, I feel an enormous amount of pride when I see the success that Senator Barack Obama is having in this campaign," Edwards said during an appearance at Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Sumter.

Then Edwards turned the "fairy tale" remark back on its originator, continuing: "I must say I was troubled recently to see a suggestion that real change came not through the Reverend Martin Luther King, but through a Washington politician. I fundamentally disagree with that. Those who believe that real change starts with Washington politicians have been in Washington too long -- and are living in a fairy tale."

Kornblut reported from Washington. Staff writers Shailagh Murray in Washington and Peter Slevin in Nevada contributed to this report.

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