Story Highlights• Hollywood mogul and former Clinton backer now backs Obama
• David Geffen quoted in New York Times criticizing Clintons
• Clinton camp asks Obama camp to denounce Geffen
• Obama camp asks Clinton to denounce South Carolina official's comments
By Mark Preston
CNN Washington Bureau
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The two front-runners in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination traded jabs Wednesday over remarks made by a Hollywood mogul and a powerful South Carolina lawmaker.
Sen. Hillary Clinton's spokesman called on Illinois Sen. Barack Obama to renounce comments made by Hollywood executive David Geffen that were sharply critical of the New York Democrat and her husband, former President Bill Clinton.
Geffen co-hosted a fund-raiser for Obama Tuesday night that reportedly raised more than $1 million.
Geffen is quoted extensively by New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd in Wednesday's edition disparaging the former president and questioning whether Sen. Clinton can win the presidency in 2008.
Geffen, once a close ally of the Clintons, is quoted in the column as saying the former president is a " 'reckless guy' who 'gave his enemies a lot of ammunition to hurt him and to distract the country.' " That apparently refers to the former president's sexual relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
As for Sen. Clinton, Geffen is quoted by Dowd as saying, "Not since the Vietnam War has there been this level of disappointment in the behavior of America throughout the world, and I don't think that another incredibly polarizing figure, no matter how smart she is and no matter how ambitious she is -- and God knows, is there anybody more ambitious than Hillary Clinton? -- can bring the country together."
Geffen's comments drew a strong rebuke from Sen. Clinton's spokesman, Howard Wolfson, who immediately called on Obama to repudiate them. (Watch the spat play out )
"While Sen. Obama was denouncing slash and burn politics yesterday, his campaign's finance chair was viciously and personally attacking Sen. Clinton and her husband," Wolfson said in a written statement released by the Clinton campaign. "If Sen. Obama is indeed sincere about his repeated claims to change the tone of our politics, he should immediately denounce these remarks, remove Mr. Geffen from his campaign and return his money.
"While Democrats should engage in a vigorous debate on the issues, there is no place in our party or our politics for the kind of personal insults made by Sen. Obama's principal fundraiser," Wolfson added.
"It's not clear to me why I'd be apologizing for someone else's remark," Obama said, according to his press secretary, Dan Pfeiffer. Obama told reporters, "I have said repeatedly I have the utmost respect for Sen. Clinton and have considered her an ally in the Senate and will continue to consider it that way throughout this campaign."
Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs flatly refused Wolfson's request to denounce Geffen's comments and referred to a remark made earlier this week by South Carolina Democratic state Sen. Robert Ford. Ford predicted Obama would not win the presidency if nominated because he is black. Obama and Ford are both black and Ford has endorsed Clinton.
"We aren't going to get in the middle of a disagreement between the Clintons and someone who was once one of their biggest supporters," Gibbs said in a written statement. "It is ironic that the Clintons had no problem with David Geffen when [he] was raising them $18 million and sleeping at their invitation in the Lincoln bedroom.
"It is also ironic that Sen. Clinton lavished praise on Monday and is fully willing to accept today the support of South Carolina state Sen. Robert Ford, who said if Barack Obama were to win the nomination, he would drag down the rest of the Democratic Party because 'he's black,' " Gibbs added.
Democratic front-runners Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama sparred over supporters.