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Some in Party Bristle At Clintons' Attacks

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Barack Obama criticizes Hillary Clinton for failing to take responsibility for her vote authorizing the war in Iraq. From the University of South Carolina, Beaufort. Video by Ed O'Keefe/washingtonpost.com

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By Alec MacGillis and Anne E. Kornblut
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, January 24, 2008

DILLON, S.C., Jan. 23 -- Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential campaign aired a new radio ad here Wednesday that repeated a discredited charge against Sen. Barack Obama, in what some Democrats said is part of an increasing pattern of hardball politics by her and former president Bill Clinton.

The ad takes one line from an Obama interview -- "The Republicans were the party of ideas for a pretty long chunk of time there over the last 10, 15 years" -- and juxtaposes it with GOP policies that Obama has never advocated.

"Really?" a voice-over says. "Aren't those the ideas that got us into the economic mess we're in today? Ideas like special tax breaks for Wall Street. Running up a $9 trillion debt. Refusing to raise the minimum wage or deal with the housing crisis. Are those the ideas Barack Obama's talking about?"

The Clinton campaign argued that it was simply quoting Obama. But in the original context, Obama was describing the dominance of Republican ideas in the 1980s and 1990s, without saying he supported them, and asserting that those ideas are of no use today.

The ad marked the escalation of a bitter fight between the two Democratic front-runners that has taken on a new dimension because of the involvement of Bill Clinton, the titular leader of the party. While his wife campaigns elsewhere, the former president has been making daily appearances in South Carolina in anticipation of the state's Democratic primary on Saturday, and he has adopted the role of attacking his wife's opponent the way a vice presidential candidate traditionally does in a general election.

Responding to the negative ad, Dick Harpootlian, a former chairman of the Democratic Party in South Carolina, accused the Clintons of using the "politics of deception," and he compared the former president to the late Lee Atwater, a Republican operative from South Carolina who was known for his tough tactics.

In response, Bill Clinton said Harpootlian's comments were a distraction, and he accused the Obama campaign of funneling smears through the media.

"They are feeding you this because they know this is what you want to cover. This is what you live for," he told CNN reporter Jessica Yellin, who asked him for a response to Harpootlian at an appearance in South Carolina. "They just spin you up on this and you happily go along," Clinton said. As aides steered him away, he scolded: "Shame on you."

In Washington, Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), who endorsed Obama last week, castigated the former president for what he called his "glib cheap shots" at Obama, saying both sides should settle down but placing the blame predominantly on Clinton.

"That's beneath the dignity of a former president," Leahy told reporters, adding: "He is not helping anyone, and certainly not helping the Democratic Party."

That concern was also voiced by some neutral Democrats, who said that the former president's aggressive role, along with the couple's harsh approach recently, threatens to divide the party in the general election.

A few prominent Democrats, including Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (Mass.) and Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), have spoken to the former president about the force of his Obama critiques. There is some fear within the party that if Obama becomes the nominee, he could emerge personally battered and politically compromised. And there is concern that a Clinton victory could come at a cost -- particularly a loss of black voters, who could blame her for Obama's defeat and stay home in November.


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