Clinton Supporters Come Out Swinging

(CBS)
From CBS News' Fernando Suarez:

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- With the South Carolina primary only a few weeks away and with poll numbers showing a tight presidential contest, Hillary Clinton's campaign is sharpening the rhetoric.

During a town hall meeting at Columbia College, Clinton was introduced by Bob Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television. Johnson spent most of the time taking jabs at Barack Obama's experience.

"My heart, my pride goes out to him," Johnson, an African-American, said of Obama.

"I have a young 18-year-old son named Brett. I'd like to think Brett one day could run for president. But I tell you this, I also have a head. And my head tells me, 'Don't vote for a candidate because they're black.'"

At one point, Johnson, who as a "HillRaiser" is a top fund-raiser for Clinton, made what some interpreted as a veiled reference to Obama's admitted drug use as a teen.

"I am frankly insulted that the Obama campaign would imply that we are so stupid that we would think that Hillary and Bill Clinton who have been deeply and emotionaly involved in black issues - when Barack Obama was doing something in the neighborhood that I won't say what he was doing, but he said it in his book - when they have been involved."

Immediately the press began to scurry to get a response from the traveling press secretary who said Johnson wasn't referring to Obama's previous drug use, but rather to his days as a community organizer.

The Clinton campaign drew fire last month for similar comments made about Obama's drug use by Bill Shaheen, one of Clinton's New Hampshire co-chairs. Shaheen later stepped down as a result.

Before Johnson took the stage, Clinton supporter Rep. Stephanie Tubbs-Jones, D-Ohio, told the crowd she thinks Clinton is the best qualified person to run for president saying "there's no guesswork" when it comes to Clinton.

"There's no competition in this. I dont know why they keep playing this game about competition. Ain't no competition," said Tubbs-Jones, also an African-American.

"We need to stop the guesswork. No guesswork. Put the record, one against the other."

The full-court press with a couple of Clinton's high-profile African-American supporters comes as polls in South Carolina - a state where half of Democratic primary voters in 2004 were African-American - show Obama ahead of Clinton.

From one coast to another, Clinton is courting minority groups as she heads into next week's Nevada caucuses and the South Carolina primary on the 26th. Just yesterday, Clinton spent most of the day attending events with a focus on the large Hispanic population in Nevada.

UPDATE, 4:58pm: Obama's campaign released a statement from former S.C. state Rep. I.S. Leevy Johnson, who reacted to Bob Johnson's comments: "It's offensive that Senator Clinton literally stood by and said nothing as another one of her campaign's top supporters launched a personal, divisive attack on Barack Obama. For someone who decries the politics of personal destruction, she should've immediately denounced these attacks on the spot."

Bob Johnson also released a written statement to clarify his remarks: "My comments today were referring to Barack Obama's time spent as a community organizer, and nothing else. Any other suggestion is simply irresponsible and incorrect."