Bill Shaheen, the Clinton campaign's New Hampshire co-chair, stepped down Thursday one day after publicly raising the issue of the youthful drug use of her chief opponent, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois.
Shaheen, the husband of a former New Hampshire governor and an influential Democrat, was a constant presence by Clinton's side whenever she campaigned in the Granite State, where recent polls have her and Obama in a dead heat for first in that first-in-the-nation primary state.
"I would like to reiterate that I deeply regret my comments yesterday and say again that they were in no way authorized by Sen. Clinton or the Clinton campaign," Shaheen said in a statement issued Thursday afternoon.
'I Will Step Down'
"I made a mistake and in light of what happened, I have made the personal decision that I will step down as the co-chair of the Hillary for President campaign. This election is too important and we must all get back to electing the best qualified candidate who has the record of making change happen in this country. That candidate is Hillary Clinton."
Hours after the Wednesday release of a CNN/WMUR poll showing Obama in a statistical tie with Clinton for the first time among New Hampshire Democratic voters, Shaheen told The Washington Post that should Obama get the nomination, "one of the things Republicans are certainly going to jump on is his drug use."
In his 1996 memoir, "Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance," Obama wrote candidly about his high school-era drug use: "Pot had helped, and booze; maybe a little blow when you could afford it. Not smack, though."
Shaheen said Obama having been so open -- as opposed to then-Gov. George W. Bush, who refused to detail his past drug use during his 2000 presidential campaign -- will "open the door to further queries on the matter.
"It'll be, 'When was the last time? Did you ever give drugs to anyone? Did you sell them to anyone?'" Shaheen said. "There are so many openings for Republican dirty tricks. It's hard to overcome."
Obama campaign manager David Plouffe called the attack "desperate," and referred to a Clinton campaign attack on Obama -- who alludes to Clinton having planned for years, if not decades for her run -- for having told his kindergarten teacher he wanted to be president some day.
"Hillary Clinton said attacking other Democrats is the 'fun part' of this campaign, and now she's moved from Barack Obama's kindergarten years to his teenage years in an increasingly desperate effort to slow her slide in the polls," Plouffe said.
"Sen. Clinton's campaign is recycling old news that Barack Obama has been candid about in a book he wrote years ago, and he's talked about the lessons he's learned from these mistakes with young people all across the country."
By the end of the day Wednesday, Clinton campaign spokesman Phil Singer had issued a statement asserting that "these comments were not authorized or condoned by the campaign in any way."
And Shaheen himself issued a statement: "I deeply regret the comments I made today and they were not authorized by the campaign in any way."
Thursday, on the tarmac at Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C. en route to the debate in Des Moines, Clinton personally told Obama she was sorry for Shaheen's remarks.
Authorized or not, of course, Shaheen raising the issue of Obama's past cocaine use had the effect of bringing the story to voters' attention just weeks before the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses and Jan. 8 New Hampshire primary, at a time when voters are paying keen attention.
In his farewell statement, Shaheen asserted that "Clinton has been running a positive campaign focused on the issues that matter to America's families." But Clinton has certainly in recent weeks -- ever since her once-commanding lead in Iowa and New Hampshire seemed to evaporate -- been going negative, in person and in campaign literature and Obama campaign officials were not inclined to regard the Shaheen comments as a mistake.
Slipping in the Polls
They see the remarks as part of a whole, with Clinton increasingly attacking Obama since she began slipping in the polls in Iowa, and deputy campaign manager Bob Nash having been caught just yesterday.
apparently trolling for dirt on Obama's years as a community organizer.
They note a column in the Huffington Post by former Washington Post columnist Tom Edsall suggesting that Clinton allies are "quietly" raising Obama's cocaine use amidst a more vocal clamoring by her campaign that Obama is untested and not been sufficiently vetted.
Some Democratic activists have been sent a column by Clinton campaign officials, Edsall reported, to a story in the Iowa Independent discussing the issue of Obama's past cocaine use.
At a candidates' forum earlier this year, Clinton said she wants to "run a very positive campaign. And I sure don't want Democrats or the supporters of Democrats to be engaging in the politics of personal destruction. I think we should stay focused on what we're going to do for America."
That's easier to do when you're in first place, of course. Now that Clinton – whose campaign has worked hard to project a Bush-like aura of inevitability – is faced with a real challenge from Obama in first-in-the-nation caucus state Iowa and first-in-the-nation primary state New Hampshire, she and her allies have begun attacking Obama for his positions on issues such as health care and Social Security, but also more personally.
On Sunday, a second Clinton staffer -- Linda Olson, an Iowa County volunteer coordinator, who followed Jones County coordinator Judy Rose -- was asked to resign after reporters discovered she had forwarded an e-mail repeating the scurrilous allegation that Obama, a member of the United Curch of Christ, is a Muslim plant.
Obama Drug Use
Shaheen's reference to Obama's drug use stands in stark contrast with remarks by Republican presidential front-runner Rudy Giuliani. "I respect his honesty," Giuliani said last month after Obama told students about his drug use. "One of the things that we need from our people that are running for office is not this pretense of perfection…We're all human beings."
So far during this campaign, two Clinton campaign surrogates – former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsak, a national co-chair of her campaign, and Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., dean of the New York congressional delegation -- have attacked Giuliani's messy personal life.
Clinton's husband Bill faced attacks about his past marijuana use when he ran for president in 1992. After then-President George H.W. Bush remarked of Clinton, "This guy couldn't remember in detail that he didn't inhale 20 years ago, and he can't remember what came out of his mouth 20 minutes ago," Clinton said, "I think that that sort of demeaning talk doesn't do him any good and only shows the American people how desperate he is to hold onto his job."