Hillary on Bill: 'This Is My Campaign'

Bill Clinton has recently toned down his rhetoric on the campaign trail.


Jan. 30, 2008 — -- Reporters covering Bill Clinton have noticed a much more subdued tone coming from the former president in recent days.

Gone is the Clinton on display in South Carolina, who went on the attack against his wife's chief Democratic rival Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.

Gone, too, are the lengthy freewheeling discussions with voters, the constant references to his White House record, and the flashes of temper directed at the news media.

The Clinton campaign appears to be trying to keep the former president tightly on message while he campaigns across the country for his wife, in the lead up to the crucial Feb. 5 multistate contests.

Yesterday, he only spoke for 31 minutes, barely mentioning himself, and today, he seemed to do his best to focus on his wife's candidacy.

They're also keeping him as far away from the press as possible. So far away, in fact, some reporters covering the ex-president are having trouble hearing what he's saying to supporters as he shakes hands along the rope line.

That's led some to speculate that Clinton, who was acting as his wife's chief attack dog — has been muzzled.

ABC NEWS asked Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., if she personally asked her husband to "tone it down" a little in recent days, and she didn't deny it.

"Well, I'm very proud of his promoting my candidacy, and I'm very happy that he is able to travel as widely as he has been, along with my daughter," Clinton told reporters while campaigning in Little Rock, Ark.

"But this is my campaign, it is about my candidacy," she said.

Clinton said she is trying to keep her campaign message focused on her record and her policy platform.

"I want to keep it focused on what I offer to the country," Clinton said. "The very specific ideas that I have put forth, my record of experience, the proven change that I have brought to bear from Arkansas to New York."

In an interview with Cynthia McFadden for ABC NEWS' "Nightline," tonight, Clinton apologized for her husband's recent controversial remarks.

"I think whatever he said, which was certainly never intended to cause any kind of offense to anyone. ... If it did give offenses, then I take responsibility, and I'm sorry about that."

McFadden asked, "Can you control him?"

"Oh, of course," Clinton replied.

Those close to the Clintons argue it was the media that distorted and hyped Bill Clinton's comments about Obama. But insiders acknowledge there was a conscious decision to pull Bill Clinton back.

"There is a decision by him that he's gotta focus more on her record and her experience, and less about what she may have done with him in the White House," said a longtime friend of Hillary Clinton's, who asked not to be named.

Some argue the former president is still the best one to speak publicly on his wife's behalf.

"President Clinton has done a great job of explaining why Sen. Clinton is the most qualified and most experienced of the candidates, because he knows better than anyone the crucial role she played in the White House on the major issues facing the country," said Lanny Davis, a former Clinton White House special counsel.

The former president began attracting media attention when he challenged tenets of Obama's Iraq War record in New Hampshire.

"Give me a break. This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I've ever seen," Clinton said at the time, referring to Obama's claim that he, unlike Hillary, had been consistently opposed to the Iraq War.

In South Carolina, the former president blasted CNN reporter Jessica Yellin, charging that stories about voters being turned off by his recent rhetoric, and stories about racial issues entering the presidential contest, had been purely media driven.

"You wanna make this about words and name calling. I hate it," he said. "They're feeding you this because they know this is what you want. This is what you live for ... One more story. Shame on you. Shame on you!"

He garnered more media attention when he compared Obama's South Carolina victory to Jesse Jackson's wins in the state in the 1980s.

"Jesse Jackson won South Carolina in '84 and '88. Jackson ran a good campaign. And Obama ran a good campaign here," he said.

Asked whether her husband contributed to her defeat in South Carolina, Hillary Clinton told the New York Daily News' editorial board, "It may have," she said.

"It's hard to sort out all the different factors that influence people's perceptions and their votes."

Democrats, like former Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said the former president's recent comments were "not presidential," and others accused him of tarnishing his reputation as an elder statesman, and of creating divisions within the Democratic Party.

Donna Brazile, a Democratic analyst and ABC NEWS contributor, who headed Vice President Al Gore's campaign in 2000, said Bill Clinton appears to have stopped playing offense.

"He's returning to the role that he played in the first couple months of her election, and that is raising money and keeping the faithful energized," said Brazile.

Brazile likened the outspoken role Clinton was playing to one that a vice presidential candidate often plays in general election campaigns.

"It doesn't appear that he's going to play that role anymore, which I think is good for her, and I also think it's good for the Democratic Party, and good for the process," she said.

Today, Hillary Clinton emphasized that she intends to focus her campaign message on the issues.

"I think that is what voters want to hear," Clinton told ABC NEWS. "This election is about you, it's about the American voter, it's about you sitting at home, watching this, it's about you reading this, it's about your jobs, it's about your health care, your futures, and that's what I want to stay focused on."

ABC NEWS' Cynthia McFadden contributed to this report.