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Bill: 'My message' 99.9% positive

From NBC/NJ's Mike Memoli
COLUMBIA, SC -- At the end of a week in which he's often been the center of attention, former president Bill Clinton struck a conciliatory note, admitting that he has gotten "hot" defending his wife even as he defended his campaign role.

"I have not said anything that is factually inaccurate," he said.

Clinton had some scrambled eggs and grits with supporters this morning before setting off to visit polling locations here and upstate. As he greeted voters at the Meadowlake polling station, a woman greeted him and said, "You're doin' good. Just watch what you say."

"My message has been 99.9% positive for 100% of this campaign," Clinton said to reporters later. "I think that when I think she's being misrepresented, I have a right to try to with factual accuracy set the record straight, which is what I've tried to do."

A number of prominent Barack Obama supporters and neutral observers have criticized Clinton's vocal role on his wife's behalf. John Kerry told National Journal that "being an ex-president does not give you license to abuse the truth."

"Did you notice he didn't specify?" Clinton said when asked about the comment. "They never do. They hurl these charges, but nothing gets specified. I'm not taking the bait today. I did what I could to help Senator Kerry every time he needed me, and every time he asked me. He can support whomever he wants for whatever reason he wants. But there's nothing for me to respond to."

Another reporter asked what it said about Obama that it "took two people to beat him." Clinton again passed. "That's' just bait, too. Jesse Jackson won South Carolina twice, in '84 and '88. And he ran a good campaign. Senator Obama's run a good campaign here, he's run a good campaign everywhere."

The reference to Jackson seemed a way to downplay today's result in a state where a majority of voters are African American. Clinton was also asked today about charges of race baiting, and defended himself by citing testimony from John Lewis and Andrew Young, who marched with Martin Luther King. "I don't have to defend myself on civil rights," he said.

Clinton repeated that it's been harder dealing with the barbs of a campaign as a surrogate rather than a candidate. "I think it's harder to take when you hear people say things and call them names for months," he said. "I think I was a little hot in New Hampshire. And I think I got criticized for that." He said one person told him he told the truth, but that people "don't wanna see you mad about it." He said, "I think that's advice that I should have taken."

And to those who worry that the infighting threatens Democrats' chances in the fall, Clinton said simply, "We'll be fine... We've got to try and hold the thing together here, because we have a big campaign in the fall whatever happens in this primary," he said.

While voting took place in Meadowlake, there was also a volleyball league in action. A beaming Clinton detoured into the gymnasium, and revealed that volleyball was actually one of his favorite sports.

"I used to play when we were in law school -- played on the beach a lot. And then after Hillary and I went home to Arkansas and we taught at the university law school, we played every Sunday," he said. "We had a whole big group and we played for hours. I love it, it's a great sport."