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 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.