Brushing aside criticisms from Barack Obama and leading Democratic figures, Bill Clinton on Monday continued to champion his wife’s campaign just five days before the critical primary election in South Carolina.

Speaking at the same black activist church in Atlanta, Georgia, where Mr Obama had made a speech on Sunday and where Martin Luther King, whose birthday was celebrated on Monday, used to preach, Mr Clinton showed no signs of caving into advice to withdraw into the shadows.

In an interview on ABC News on Monday, Mr Obama said he planned to “directly confront” the former president for making “troubling” statements that were “not factually accurate”. Until Monday Mr Obama, who lost the caucus vote in Nevada on Saturday but is on track to win in South Carolina this weekend, had refrained from targeting Mr Clinton by name.

Obama campaign officials point to what they describe as a series of “mischaracterisations” by the Clintons, including “misleading statements” about Mr Obama’s record of opposition to the Iraq war and on his proposal to lift the ceiling on payroll taxes for the wealthy to shore up Social Security. They also attack “false allegations” about voter intimidation in Nevada.

As a result, the Obama campaign now planned to confront both Clintons on the campaign trail.

David Axelrod, Mr Obama’s chief strategist, told the Financial Times: “I think all we’re saying is, if the former president chooses to be an active combatant, then we are going to hold him to a standard of trust and honesty.”

Mr Clinton, who has lost his cool with reporters at several points on the campaign trail over the past 10 days, has also been criticised by senior Democrats, including Ted Kennedy, the Massachusetts senator, and Rahm Emanuel, the former Clinton White House official and senior lawmaker.

According to Newsweek both men have had heated telephone discussions with the former president in the past few days.

Some friends of Mr Clinton also say they are puzzled over what many see as his intemperate role in the former first lady’s campaign.

“I can believe that on the first couple of occasions he was genuinely losing his temper,” said a Democratic operative who is not involved with either campaign. “But it’s now gone on so long that you have to believe it is deliberate.”

Monday was also the 10th anniversary of the moment when revelations about Mr Clinton’s relationship with Monica Lewinsky, the White House intern, became public. Some believe that Mr Obama, who has based his campaign on creating a new kind of politics that moves beyond the “poll-tested triangulation” of the Clinton years, may be preparing a more explicit attack on the Clinton record.

“Obama has to walk a fine line,” says Tom Schaller, a political scientist.

“He cannot ignore Bill Clinton’s attacks – he has to fight back. But he must try to avoid getting into a mudfight, which would undermine the tone of his campaign.”

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