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Clintons play 'good cop/bad cop' on campaign trail

  • Story Highlights
  • Bill Clinton angrily responds to reporter's question about lawsuit
  • Hillary Clinton ignored question, kept positive focus
  • Nearly 9 in 10 Democrats have positive views of the former president
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From Candy Crowley
CNN Washington Bureau
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LAS VEGAS, Nevada (CNN) -- While Sen. Hillary Clinton is trying to soften her image on the campaign, she is allowing her pit bull -- Bill Clinton -- to go on the attack.

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Sen. Hillary Clinton speaks to black religious leaders in Compton, California, Thursday.

In a version of "good cop/bad cop" the couple has gone after the senator's closest rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sen. Barack Obama.

The former president aggressively interjected himself into a debate Wednesday when he became visibly combative with a reporter after being questioned about a lawsuit in Nevada that sought to ban caucus meetings in nine casinos on the Las Vegas strip.

The lawsuit, filed by a teachers union that has endorsed Hillary Clinton, claims the at-large caucus sites were unfairly allotted more delegates than other caucuses in the state. The lawsuit also took issue with caucuses being held midday at those sites -- which could make it easier for casino workers to caucus than it will be for other Nevadans.

Supporters of Sen. Barack Obama, Clinton's chief rival for the Democratic nomination, say the lawsuit was an attempt to suppress the vote of the members of the Culinary Workers Union, many of whom work at the casinos and hotels. The union had endorsed Obama just days before suit was filed.

A judge Thursday ruled against the teachers union and said the casino caucuses could go forward.

When asked by a reporter about the lawsuit Wednesday, Bill Clinton angrily said his wife's campaign had no involvement in the suit being filed and claimed the reporter had taken an "accusatory tone." Video Watch Bill Clinton lash out »

"Get on your television station and say, 'I don't care about the home mortgage crisis; all I care about is making sure that some voters have it easier than others ... and when they do vote ... their vote should count five times as much as others," Clinton said in a raised voice.

"If you want to make that your position get on the television and take it. Don't be accusatory with me. I had nothing to do with this lawsuit," he said.

The Democratic presidential candidate herself took a much different approach when she was asked whether the case would help Obama -- she ignored the question.

Instead, she responded "I hope that it can be resolved by the courts and by the state party because obviously we want as many people as possible to be able to participate."

And, reacting to the judge's decision to allow the casino caucuses to proceed, the Clinton campaign remained positive.

"While we were not involved in this lawsuit, and have always said that we would play by the rules that we're given, it has always been our hope that every Nevadan should have equal access and opportunity to participate in the caucus," the campaign said in a statement. "The Obama campaign has been clear in its belief that whoever wins the culinary union endorsement will win Nevada. We will leave it up to the people of Nevada to make that decision."

While speaking at an event with Magic Johnson and his daughter, Chelsea Clinton, in north Las Vegas, Nevada, Thursday, Bill Clinton continued to criticize how the media treated his wife compared to other candidates.

"But the girl's doing pretty good isn't she?" Clinton said. "She's still doing pretty well."

On Wednesday night the presidential candidate welcomed the press on the maiden voyage of a charter jet her campaign has dubbed "Hill Force 1." Video Watch Clinton play flight attendant »

"Hi my name is Hillary, and I am pleased to have most of you on board," she chirped over the PA system in her most cheerful flight attendant voice.

She ended her welcome by saying, "We know you have a choice when you fly, so we are grateful that you have chosen the plane with the most experienced candidate."

The couple's strategy is becoming routine, with Sen. Clinton playing the "good cop" and Bill Clinton bringing the heavy artillery.

For example, Hillary often takes a subtle dig at Obama's limited time on the national stage by saying "there is not a contradiction between experience and change."

Bill Clinton, on the other hand, is often much more direct. Before the New Hampshire primary for example, the former president blasted Obama for saying he opposed Iraq from the beginning, saying "Give me a break -- This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I've ever seen."

The comment drew protests from the Obama camp and some prominent African-American Democrats.

Earlier in the campaign, the two would travel together, but, now, the couple operates more like a tag team. While she debated in Nevada Tuesday night, he was revving up voters in California. On Thursday, the roles switched. While she's in California, he picked up the slack in Nevada.

The approach may help the New York senator's chances. For Democrats, Bill Clinton reminds them of the good economy in the 1990, and 89 percent of Democrats view him favorably.

Fond memories of the Clinton years force Obama and former Sen. John Edwards, the other major Democratic nominee competing against Clinton, to tread lightly but the two are pressing their case, arguing mostly that the country needs a sea change.

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"I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not," Obama told the Reno Gazette-Journal's editorial board this week.

But attacking the Clinton legacy can be tricky business. In New Hampshire exit polls, 49 percent of Democrats had a strongly favorable opinion of Bill Clinton, and a majority of them voted for his wife. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Mike Roselli contributed to this report

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