Bill Clinton Has Regrets on Campaign for Wife

Reflects on anger over S.C. race and "things I wish I hadn't said."


MONROVIA, Liberia Aug. 4, 2008 — -- In his first broadcast interview since his wife dropped out of the Democratic presidential race, former President Bill Clinton said he still has regrets, and insisted he's "not a racist," despite controversies surrounding his comments about Sen. Barack Obama's win in the South Carolina Democratic primary.

Clinton reflected on his wife's campaign, his future and the work his foundation is doing across Africa in an exclusive wide-ranging interview with ABC News in Monrovia, Liberia. He and daughter Chelsea spent time in four African nations over the past six days. On Monday, the former President will address the World AIDS Conference in Mexico.

At times, he appeared to grow testy as he discussed his wife's failed bid for the nomination and was asked if he deserves at least some of the blame for his wife's losses.

Clinton at first said he did not want to rehash events of the past year because it "interferes with the issue which is who should be elected in November." But then he offered a lengthy defense of his own role and chastized the media for its coverage.

When asked, "Do you personally have any regrets about what you did, campaigning for your wife?" Clinton, at first, answered, "Yes, but not the ones you think. And it would be counterproductive for me to talk about."

But then he added, "There are things that I wish I'd urged her to do. Things I wish I'd said. Things I wish I hadn't said.

"But I am not a racist," he continued. "I've never made a racist comment and I never attacked him [Obama] personally."

Clinton was referring to an uproar surrounding some of his comments in the South Carolina Democratic primary that prompted anger among some in the African-American community. After Obama, D-Ill., defeated his wife there, Clinton seemed to downplay the significance of the victory by noting Jesse Jackson had won South Carolina in 1984 and 1988, which some observers found offensive.

The controversy later brought an apology from Hillary Clinton, who told reporters, "You know, I am sorry if anyone was offended. It was certainly not meant in any way to be offensive."

Bill Clinton suggested he is still mad at one politician, South Carolina's Rep. Jim Clyburn, who abandoned his neutrality to back Obama after claiming that the former president had injected race into the campaign.

When Clyburn's name was brought up as a supporter who criticized the former president, Clinton interrupted to say Clyburn was never a supporter of the Clintons.

When Clyburn's description was changed to "longtime friend," Clinton replied, "Used to be."

Pressed on whether Clinton "severely damaged" his standing with African-Americans as Clyburn has claimed, Clinton snapped, "Yeah, that may be. By the time he got through working on it, that was probably true."

But Clinton says that he has no hard feelings towards Obama, the man who defeated his wife.

"I'm not and never was mad at Senator Obama," Clinton said.

"You know he hit her hard a couple of times and they hit us a few times a week before she ever responded in kind. The only thing I ever got mad about was people in your line of work pretending that she somehow started the negative stuff. It's a contact sport," Clinton said.

The Obama campaign's only response to Clinton's comments was to say, "We had a hard-fought primary. We head to the fall, a united Democratic Party, and look forward to the general election."

More significant is the likelihood that both Sen. Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton will have prominent speaking roles at the Democratic convention later this month, where Obama will be nominated to be the party's presidential nominee.

ABC News' Jake Tapper, Tahman Bradley and Michael S. James contributed to this report.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events