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Black leader to Bill Clinton: 'Chill' on Obama

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  • Bill Clinton increasingly attacking Barack Obama on campaign trail
  • Obama says former president is distorting his record
  • Rep. Jim Clyburn says Bill Clinton should tone down rhetoric on behalf of wife
  • South Carolina Democrats hold crucial primary Saturday
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(CNN) -- The bitter back-and-forth between former President Bill Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama has led a prominent black lawmaker to tell the former president Monday to "chill a little bit."

Sen. Barack Obama marches in a Martin Luther King memorial parade in Columbia, South Carolina, Monday.

The two Democratic front-runners, Illinois Sen. Obama and New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, are locked in a battle for the key South Carolina primary this Saturday.

As their campaign sparring continues, the Illinois senator seems to be spending almost as much time responding to Hillary Clinton's husband as he does to the candidate herself.

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, one of the most powerful African-Americans in Congress, weighed in on the feud Monday, saying it was time for Bill Clinton to watch his words.

Bill Clinton has delivered full-throated attacks on Obama in recent days, accusing him of overstating his opposition to the war in Iraq, complaining about Obama's union supporters in the Nevada caucuses last weekend and blasting his relatively mild praise for Republican icon Ronald Reagan during a Las Vegas newspaper interview.

Obama adviser David Axelrod said the Clintons have been playing "good cop, bad cop," with him wielding the club while she stays positive.

And Obama said Monday that Bill Clinton "continues to make statements that aren't supported by the facts."

Bill Clinton's attacks on Obama, Clyburn said in a CNN interview, were unfair because a former president's viewpoint "carries with it extra weight." Video Watch Clyburn tell Clinton to 'chill' »

"I think they would say in 'Gullah Geechee' country he needs to chill a little bit. I hope he understands what that means," Clyburn told CNN.

"I can understand him wanting to defend his wife's honor and his own record, and that is to be expected. But you can't do that in a way that won't engender the kind of feelings that seem to be bubbling up as a result of this."

"Gullah Geechee" refers to African-Americans who live in South Carolina's Low Country region near the Atlantic coast.

"He is revered in many sections of the African-American community, and I think he can afford to tone it down," Clyburn added.

Black voters make up roughly half the Democratic electorate in the state, and Obama seems to have reversed Clinton's early lead in that demographic, posting a huge edge over the New York senator in most recent polls of African-American primary voters.

It's a delicate situation for the Clintons, who have spent the month dealing with verbal missteps that have made waves in the African-American community.

In a recent interview with The New York Times, Clyburn said he was disappointed with comments from Hillary Clinton that some took to suggest President Lyndon Johnson had more to do with passing the Civil Rights Act than Martin Luther King Jr.

"We have to be very, very careful about how we speak about that era in American politics," the South Carolina congressman said at the time. "It is one thing to run a campaign and be respectful of everyone's motives and actions, and it is something else to denigrate those. That bothered me a great deal."

He also expressed frustration over Bill Clinton's recent remark that the characterization of Obama's record on Iraq as consistently antiwar is a "fairy tale."

Last week, Clyburn said it was time for both Hillary Clinton and Obama to move on.

Clyburn insists he will not endorse any presidential candidate, upholding a pledge to the candidates and to the Democratic Party that he would stay out of the race ahead of his state's key January vote.

After losing the caucus tally in Nevada this weekend, the Obama campaign took aim at the former president. In an interview that aired on ABC Monday morning, Obama himself took on the former president, saying that he feels as if he's running against both Clintons.

In the interview, Obama said the former president has been misrepresenting both "my record of opposition to the war in Iraq" and "our approach to organizing in Las Vegas," as the dispute over Saturday's Nevada caucus vote continues to grow. Video Watch Bill Clinton accuse the Obama campaign of strong-arm tactics »

"It's very clear that Bill Clinton is playing fast and loose with the facts," adviser Axelrod said. "It's been a little crass. As someone who supported him and respects him, I think it's disappointing."

The Clinton campaign attributed the Obama camp's anger to sour grapes over the Saturday caucus vote results.

"We understand Sen. Obama is frustrated by his loss in Nevada, but the facts are the facts," said campaign spokesman Phil Singer. "President Clinton is a huge asset to our campaign and will continue talking to the American people."

And Bill Clinton himself showed no sign of backing down. During a campaign stop in Buffalo, New York, Sunday night, the former president went after Obama for his comments to a Reno, Nevada, editorial board last week that President Reagan had been a transformational president.


Obama "said President Reagan was the engine of innovation and did more, had a more lasting impact on America than I did," Bill Clinton said.

"And then the next day he said, 'In the '90s the good ideas came out from the Republicans,' which will be costly, maybe, down the road for him because it's factually not accurate." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Jessica Yellin, Rebecca Sinderbrand, Alexander Mooney and Deirdre Walsh contributed to this report.

All About Bill ClintonHillary ClintonBarack ObamaJames Clyburn

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