THE NOTE: Hillary vs. Hillary

At least she wasn't mentioned in the Mitchell Report.

Even before a top adviser to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential campaign resigned on Thursday -- and before Sen. Barack Obama stopped her laughter cold with a supremely confident 11-word sentence at the final Democratic debate -- this was the roughest stretch of Clinton's campaign. By far.

These past six weeks have brought us driver's licenses (or not) for illegal immigrants; a (possibly) untipped waitress; planted questions; collapsing flags; a transcendent Obama speech at the J-J dinner; a consistently off-message spouse; oppo-research gone bad (all the way to Kindergarten); campaign aides e-mailing garbage about Obama; and Billy Shaheen talking garbage about Obama.


The corker is the departure of Shaheen, one of Clinton's state and national campaign co-chairs, and a man the Union Leader calls "one of New Hampshire's most powerful Democrats."

And a new poll in New Hampshire that has Obama ticking ahead in the Granite State.

This is supposed to be the "fun part"? Keeping in mind that a humbling makes for a heck of a storyline -- and that any campaign would be absolutely insane to project an image of chaos by shaking up its structure less than three weeks before the Iowa caucuses -- that depends on what happens next (and a rare press availability Friday morning could give us some sense).

There are now two very different Clinton campaigns being run. One is pushing a quite possibly very effective message, depicting her as loveable (thanks, mom), experienced (thanks, Bill), and effective agent of change. (New line: "Yes, it takes some perspiration.")

The parallel campaign is trafficking in political nonsense, stirring up non-stories about one opponent in particular who is Clinton's biggest threat.

So far, that's the half that's winning. Even after Clinton's apology to Obama on the tarmac of Reagan National Airport, strategist Mark Penn let the word "cocaine" escape his lips in a televised interview, as in, "The issue related to cocaine use is not something the campaign is in any way raising." (Imagine the uproar if David Axelrod went on television and said, "The issue related to Bill Clinton's extramarital affairs is not something the campaign is in any way raising.")

Not that anyone's staying away from politics here. "Obama officials seized on it as evidence that the Clinton team was intentionally trying to associate Obama with drug use," Anne Kornblut and Dan Balz write in The Washington Post.

"Still, even as Obama's operatives objected to the remarks, his campaign manager sent out a fundraising appeal urging supporters to show their outrage by contributing to the campaign."

If any portion of Camp Clinton wanted Obama's drug use in the mix of the campaign, they got their wish.

"A senior adviser to the Obama campaign, David Axelrod, had to answer precisely those queries [raised by Billy Shaheen] from reporters in a scrum after the debate. He said emphatically that Mr. Obama had not sold or given out drugs," Russell Berman writes in the New York Sun.

For a second consecutive day, an apology overshadowed a debate. The very-sorry candidates: Clinton and former governor Mike Huckabee, R-Ark. The campaigns? Maybe not so much.

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