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Drugs, race raised in Clinton-Obama fight

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  • Obama supporter calls on Clinton to disavow BET founder's remarks
  • Clinton accuses Obama camp of distorting her remarks on civil rights
  • Obama rejects complaints, saying "we haven't commented on" her remarks
  • Edwards joins jockeying for voters ahead of South Carolina primary
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COLUMBIA, South Carolina (CNN) -- Black Entertainment Television founder Bob Johnson waded into the Democratic presidential race on behalf of Sen. Hillary Clinton on Sunday, leveling what appeared to be a criticism of Sen. Barack Obama's admitted past drug use.

Sen. Hillary Clinton says Sen. Barack Obama's camp is deliberately distorting her remarks.

Johnson, a prominent Clinton supporter, made the remarks during an appearance at a church in South Carolina, the scene of a January 26 primary with a large share of African-American voters.

Clinton also accused Obama's presidential campaign of distorting remarks that she and her husband have made recently which touched off concerns among some African-American voters.

Johnson said he has held previous fund-raisers for Obama but was unhappy with criticisms of the former first lady-turned-New York senator by Obama's campaign.

"As an African American, I'm frankly insulted that the Obama campaign would imply that we are so stupid that we would think Bill and Hillary Clinton, who have been deeply and emotionally 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," Johnson said while campaigning at Columbia's largely black Northminster Presbyterian Church.

In Obama's recently reprinted 1995 book, "Dreams of My Father" the future presidential candidate writes he was once headed in the direction of a "junkie" and a "pothead."

In December, Clinton personally apologized to Obama after her New Hampshire campaign co-chairman raised the issue, and the adviser resigned amid the controversy that followed.

In a statement issued Sunday afternoon, Johnson said his remarks referred "to Barack Obama's time spent as a community organizer, and nothing else. Any other suggestion is simply irresponsible and incorrect."

The Clinton and Obama camps are locked in an increasingly heated battle for black voters in South Carolina, whose primary choices include the African-American senator and the wife of a man once nicknamed "the first black president."

Former South Carolina state Rep. "I.S." Leevy Johnson, an Obama supporter, called on Clinton to disavow Johnson's remarks.

"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," he said in a statement released by Obama's campaign. "For someone who decries the politics of personal destruction, she should've immediately denounced these attacks on the spot."

Sunday's flare-up capped a weekend of sparring between the two camps that began with Clinton's comments last week that while Martin Luther King Jr. led the civil rights movement, "Dr. King's dream began to be realized when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It took a president to get it done."

Some African-American leaders criticized the remarks as dismissive of the civil rights movement and of King, who was assassinated in 1968. On Sunday, Obama described Clinton's comments as "ill-advised" but rejected any suggestion that his campaign has been behind the complaints.

"For them to somehow suggest that we're interjecting race as a consequence of a statement she made, that we haven't commented on, is pretty hard to figure out," he told reporters on Sunday.

And the third leading Democrat, former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, said Clinton was suggesting "that real change ... came not through the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, but through a Washington politician." Edwards won the South Carolina primary in 2004.

Speaking on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday, Clinton said Obama's backers were distorting her remarks and called King "one of the people I admire most in the world."

"He understood that he had to move the political process and bring in those who were in political power," she said. "And he campaigned for political leaders, including Lyndon Johnson, because he wanted somebody in the White House who would act on what he had devoted his life to achieving."

And Sunday, at the Presbyterian church, Clinton said it was "historic" that both a black man and a woman were considered serious contenders for the White House.

"I am so proud of my party. I am so proud of my country, and I am so proud of Senator Barack Obama because together we have presented our cases to the people," she said.

Edwards, meanwhile, used an appearance at a black church in Sumter, east of Columbia to remind voters that he is a native of the state. Edwards said his experience growing up in the then-segregated South allowed him to understand "in a personal way the struggles that African-Americans have gone through."

"No one has been more aggressive and more outspoken on issues that affect the African-American community," said Edwards, a veteran trial lawyer and the Democrats' vice presidential nominee in 2004.

Obama also accused her of "rewriting" history in her complaints about his voting record on Iraq.

Former President Bill Clinton last week criticized Obama's statements over the years about Iraq, and argued that Obama has not been consistent.

Obama has said his positions are consistent, and that he has always staunchly opposed the war. And he told reporters Sunday, "She started her campaign saying she wanted to make history and has been spending a lot of time rewriting it." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Josh Levs contributed to this report.

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