(CNN) - Democrat Hillary Clinton said news reports that a key black lawmaker in the early-voting state of South Carolina had criticized her campaign for recent comments were inaccurate – and blamed the stories and much of the recent controversy on rival Barack Obama’s campaign.
"Well you'll have to look at the sources of some of it, but it is something I was disturbed by… I think it clearly came from Sen. Obama's campaign, and I don't think that it's the kind of debate we should be having in our campaign," Clinton told reporters Saturday after a campaign stop.
Clinton had faced criticism over comments she made in Fox News interview in which she tried to make a point about presidential leadership by comparing the legacies of President John Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
“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,” Clinton said, in a claim that her experience was more important than Obama’s soaring rhetoric.
Several African-American leaders objected to the comparison. On Friday, Democrat Rep. Jim Clyburn, a powerful member of congressional leadership, signaled his displeasure with her remarks in comments published in the New York Times.
“We have to be very, very careful about how we speak about that era in American politics. It is one thing to run a campaign and be respectful of everyone’s motives and actions, and it is something else to denigrate those. That bothered me a great deal,” said Clyburn.
Clyburn, who has not made an endorsement in the Democratic presidential primary, later released a statement signaling his intent to remain neutral and encouraging White House hopefuls “to be sensitive about the words they use.”
African-American voters make up roughly half of the Democratic electorate in Clyburn's key early-voting home state of South Carolina, where Obama now holds a double-digit edge over Clinton in most recent polls. The Democratic primary there is scheduled for January 26.
Clinton and Obama have spent the past few days locked in a heated back-and-forth over the issue, culminating in a Friday Politico report in which Obama spokeswoman Candice Tolliver said “a cross-section of voters are alarmed at the tenor of some of these statements,” and that the New York senator would have decide whether apologies were in order.
“There’s a groundswell of reaction to these comments — and not just these latest comments but really a pattern, or a series of comments that we’ve heard for several months… Folks are beginning to wonder: Is this really an isolated situation, or is there something bigger behind all of this?” said Tolliver.
Clinton tried to defuse the issue when asked how big of a factor race would be during the primary season. "I hope none you know I don't think either Sen. Obama or myself want to see the injection of race or gender into this campaign. We're each running as individuals."
–CNN's Sasha Johnson and Rebecca Sinderbrand