THE NOTE: Clinton Goes Nuclear on Obama

Say this about the denizens of Camp Clinton: They don't use a machine gun when a fly swatter might do the job. They detonate a nuclear warhead.

How else to explain this blast (couched, of course, as something other people might say about Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.)?

This from Billy Shaheen -- national and state Clinton campaign co-chair, husband of the former New Hampshire governor, and frequent campaign presence: "It'll be, 'When was the last time? Did you ever give drugs to anyone? Did you sell them to anyone?' " Shaheen tells The Washington Post's Alec MacGillis. "There are so many openings for Republican dirty tricks. It's hard to overcome."

Republican dirty tricks? Remind us again, which campaign has had to dismiss two volunteers in recent days for forwarding e-mails that say Obama is a Muslim? Who's trolling for dirt about Obama's Chicago years?

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign says Shaheen was freelancing (and he's sorry now) -- just like other low-level operatives like Charlie Rangel and Tom Vilsack were reading from their own playbooks, right? And we're to accept that Shaheen was off the reservation in a direction that fit ever-so neatly with the Clinton campaign's argument about electability?


Don't forget the timing: There's Thursday's 2 pm ET debate in Johnston, Iowa -- the last time the Democrats will gather in one place before the Jan. 3 caucuses. And Shaheen's comments came just "hours after the release of a CNN/WMUR poll showing Obama in a statistical tie with Clinton for the first time among New Hampshire Democratic voters," ABC's Jake Tapper writes.

Says Obama campaign manager David Plouffe: "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." (Good line.)

This does put the issue of Obama's past drug use -- the stuff he owned up to in his memoir -- before voters in the run-up to Iowa. But does Hillary Clinton really want a debate with Barack Obama about their pasts? (Ready to break out the "didn't inhale" clip?) And would she want that debate to turn on what Republicans are likely to say about them?

Let's not call it panic -- but coming in to the final Democratic debate before the caucuses, may we suggest that there may be a tough of concern, of worry, of (heaven forbid) doubt over at the Clinton campaign?

The not-so-secret weapon keeps making the wrong kind of news.

Public polls show Iowa to be a dead heat, and the New Hampshire firewall is crumbling.

Clinton operatives are dropping loads of oppo-research on Obama's head nearly daily -- sometimes elegantly, sometimes less so.

Now they're trying to sell change -- but what if Obama and former senator John Edwards, D-N.C., have already cornered that market?

All the campaign angst seems to have shifted to Clinton as the momentum has flowed to Obama. "Clinton campaign insiders are increasingly questioning the cautious, poll-driven approach taken by Mark Penn, Hillary Rodham Clinton's top political aide," Newsday's Glenn Thrush reports. "Bill Clinton -- along with former White House hands -- have counseled her to adopt a far more aggressive approach with Obama." Said one "top Clinton ally": "Mark wanted to run her, basically, for re-election, and we are seeing what happened."

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