Democratic officials are worried that Sen. Hillary Clinton's attacks on Sen. Barack Obama are so strong that she could be doing serious damage to him, ultimately helping to elect John McCain in November.
The Clinton camp denies that, saying the process only makes the candidates stronger.
After Obama suggested that Clinton wasn't being transparent, because she has not yet released her tax returns, her campaign's response implied that Obama was a member of the infamous Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy.
"I, for one, do not believe that imitating Ken Starr is the way to win a Democratic primary election for president," said Clinton Communications Director Howard Wolfson on a conference call earlier this week.
Invoking Ken Starr and conjuring up memories of grand juries and impeachment might not seem like a good idea, but analysts point to the sympathy Hillary Clinton evoked during that time.
The more aggressive response is all part of what one Clinton official told The New York Times would be "the kitchen sink" approach to attacking Obama.
On Thursday Clinton made the case that Obama was unprepared to be commander-in-chief while surrounded by retired U.S. generals.
"When there is a crisis, whether it is 3 p.m. or 3 a.m., there is no time for speeches or on the job training," Clinton said at a campaign event with former military leaders yesterday, echoing her red phone ad.
"Senator McCain will bring a lifetime of experience to the campaign; I will bring a lifetime of experience; and Senator Obama will bring a speech that he gave in 2002," Clinton said after the event.
Matthew Dowd, a former senior adviser to President George W. Bush and an ABC News consultant, thinks Clinton's rhetoric could end up helping the Republicans. "If you look at this race, everything that Hillary Clinton has been saying over the last couple weeks are all great sound bites and cuts for John McCain to use in the fall," he said yesterday.
So far Obama seems to have pulled his punches. Some of his supporters are worried that he might not be able to, and that in politics, like baseball, nice guys finish last.
Obama told ABC World News anchor Charlie Gibson that's not why he got into the race.
"It's important for us not to lose sight of why I'm running in the first place, not to have a tit-for-tat battle with Senator Clinton, but rather to explain how I can help the American people," Obama said yesterday.
Even if Obama is reluctant to throw a punch, Clinton's aggressive attacks are clearly getting to his staffers. One of Obama's senior foreign policy aides, Samantha Power, resigned today after being quoted in a Scottish newspaper calling Clinton a "monster." Power had issued a statement apologizing, and the Obama campaign said he "decries such characterizations, which have no place in this campaign."