EXCLUSIVE: Barack vs. Bill: Obama Hits Ex-Prez Over 'Troubling' Attacks

Bill Clinton hits back at Obama for saying Reagan better President than he was.

ByABC News via logo

Jan. 21, 2008 — -- The war of words between former President Clinton and Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama escalated today as Clinton accused his wife's Democratic rival of saying the Reagan administration was better than the Clinton administration.

Clinton's latest shot came less than a day after Obama said that the former president's recent remarks on the campaign trail are "troubling."

Clinton didn't back down today as he took another swipe at Obama for courting Republican voters in Nevada and for praising former President Reagan.

"[Hillary] won a victory in spite of a very well-organized, and I might say a very well-executed strategy by the Obama campaign, which included doing well in the north of Nevada, where his demographic of upscale voters lived, and by making an explicit effort to get Republicans to come and vote for him in the Democratic caucus," Clinton said Sunday night during a campaign event for Hillary Clinton in Buffalo, N.Y.

Clinton then accused Obama of calling conservative darling Reagan a better president than Clinton.

"[Obama] said President Reagan was the engine of innovation and did more, had a more lasting impact on America than I did," Clinton said. "And then the next day he said, 'In the '90s the good ideas came out from the Republicans.' Which it'll be costly maybe down the road for him because it's factually not accurate."

That wasn't exactly what Obama said, though he invoked Reagan in a positive way.

"I don't want to present myself as some sort of singular figure. I think part of what's different are the times. I do think that for example the 1980 was different. I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not. He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it," Obama said during an editorial board meeting with the Reno Gazette-Journal.

He continued: "I think they felt like with all the excesses of the 1960s and 1970s and government had grown and grown but there wasn't much sense of accountability in terms of how it was operating. I think people, he just tapped into what people were already feeling, which was we want clarity, we want optimism, we want a return to that sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing."

Earlier, in an exclusive interview with ABC News' Robin Roberts "Good Morning America" the Illinois senator directly engaged the former Democratic president, calling his advocacy on behalf of his wife's presidential campaign, "troubling."

"You know the former president, who I think all of us have a lot of regard for, has taken his advocacy on behalf of his wife to a level that I think is pretty troubling," Obama said during his first morning television interview since coming in second in Nevada. "He continues to make statements that are not supported by the facts -- whether it's about my record of opposition to the war in Iraq or our approach to organizing in Las Vegas.

"This has become a habit, and one of the things that we're going to have to do is to directly confront Bill Clinton when he's making statements that are not factually accurate," Obama added.

Obama apparently was referring to Clinton's comment that it was a "fairy tale" that Obama has consistently opposed the Iraq war from the start, and that Nevada union officials backing Obama were strong-arming members into caucusing for Obama.

Bill Clinton took on Obama's record on Iraq at a Dartmouth College event days before the New Hampshire primary, saying it was wrong Obama was able to trumpet superior judgment on Iraq by claiming he had been against the war from the start.

"Give me a break. This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I've ever seen," Bill Clinton said.

Bill Clinton was making the case that Obama -- just like Sen. Hillary Clinton -- had voted to fund the war since he's been in office.

Obama said the former president has taken his campaigning on his wife's behalf too far.

"I understand him wanting to promote his wife's candidacy," Obama said. "She's got a record that she can run on. But I think it's important that we try to maintain some -- you know, level of honesty and candor during the course of the campaign. If we don't, then we feed the cynicism that has led so many Americans to be turned off to politics."

Hillary Clinton's campaign manager Howard Wolfson said Obama may just be smarting from his loss to the New York senator in the Nevada caucuses on Saturday.

"We understand Sen. Obama is frustrated by his loss in Nevada, but facts are facts," Wolfson said. "Sen. Obama's allies in Nevada engaged in strong-arm tactics and intimidation against our supporters and his record against the war has been inconsistent. President Clinton is a huge asset to our campaign and will continue talking to the American people to press the case for Sen. Clinton.

"Of course Sen. Clinton and Sen. Obama are the candidates on the ballot and she is winning because she is giving voice to the Americans who will provide real solutions to the challenges they face in the daily lives," he said.

During the run up to the caucus, Obama received a lot of pressure to denounce a third-party advertising supporting him, but accusing Sen. Clinton of abandoning Hispanic workers.

"The ad that happened in Nevada, we had nothing to do with. I wasn't even in the state of Nevada when it went up for the couple of days right before the caucus," Obama said.

"To the extent that it implied that Sen. Clinton was trying to suppress Hispanic votes, I think that would be absolutely incorrect and unfair. I think that they were concerned about the fact that the Clinton ad -- that Clinton supporters, not the Clinton campaign -- the Clinton supporters had filed a lawsuit in the eleventh hour to try to change the rules of the caucus in the way that they thought would advantage them. And this happened right after the union endorsed me. So understandably, the union was upset," he added.

He did not denounce the ad, but when a similar ad in Iowa aired against him, Obama said third-party ads should not be tolerated.

"What I don't want is a situation in which we are so driven to just win that we are willing to say anything, and over time, you know the American people just get turned off because they don't believe what politicians say," he said.

"My concern is not to try to go tit for tat on these issues and it's also, you know, not to suggest that there's not going to be some sharp elbows in politics. I understand that there are going to be sharp elbows in a primary and certainly there's going to be some rough 'n tumble in a general election," Obama added.