ABC News’ Sarah Amos Reports: Former President Bill Clinton says he didn’t see his wife "whining" when she’s taken some tough political shots on the presidential campaign trail.
"When I watched that debate last night, I got kinda tickled," the former President said at an American Legion Hall event in St. Mary’s, Pennsylvania, "After the [debate], her opponents’, oh, the people working were saying, ‘Oh this is so negative, why are they doing this.’ Well they’ve been beatin’ up on her for 15 months. I didn’t hear her whining when he said she was untruthful in Iowa or called her the senator from Punjab."
"And, you know, they said some pretty rough things about me, too. But you know, this is a contact sport. If you don’t want to play, keep your uniform off," Clinton told a loudly cheering crowd.
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Clinton asserted the focus on the campaign has largely been on the issues.
"The truth is," Clinton said, "this has been basically positive campaign on the issues, and on the records and on the experience. And the real differences should be on the issues."
Clinton was in high spirits on Thursday morning, the day after Sens. Clinton and Obama met for the 22nd time on a debate stage.
"I don’t know if you saw that debate last night, but I did, and I thought she was great. She was great because she showed the strength and leadership and knowledge of the issues that is very important to the next president," Clinton effused to his first crowd of the day in Erie, Pennsylvania.
Obama, meanwhile, tried to brush off any criticism that his debate performance was below par.
During a town hall in Raleigh, Obama said his Democratic nomination rival "looked in her element" in Philadelphia.
"She was taking every opportunity to get a dig in there, that’s her right to kind of twist the knife a little bit," Obama said.
"That’s how our politics has been taught to be played. That’s the lesson that she learned when the Republicans were doing that same thing to her back in the 1990s, so I understand it, and when you’re running for the presidency then you’ve got to expect it."
Obama then paused, brushed both his shoulders, then bent down and brushed off his knee to thunderous applause from the audience.
"That’s what you got to do," Obama laughed, "That is also precisely why I’m running for president to change that kind of politics."
The Illinois senator called the first half of the debate "tit for tat silliness", quickly adding, "It took us 45 min before we even started talking about a single issue that matters to the American people . . . 45 minutes before we heard about healthcare, 45 minutes before we heard about Iraq, 45 minutes before we heard about jobs, 45 minutes before we heard about gas prices."
Obama said that the debate was a preview of how the Republicans will attack him if he were the nominee.
"That was the roll out of the Republican’s campaign against me in November. It happened just a little early," Obama said.
ABC News’ Sunlen Miller contributed to this report.