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Clinton backer criticizes Obama's past drug use

The candidate distances herself from her N.H. co-chairman's remarks.

December 13, 2007|Jill Zuckman | Chicago Tribune

MANCHESTER, N.H. — On the same day that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton discovered that she had lost her lead in New Hampshire, one of her chief supporters questioned whether Sen. Barack Obama could win a general election because of his past marijuana and cocaine use.

The questions raised by Bill Shaheen, Clinton's New Hampshire co-chairman, substantially upped the ante in the ongoing back-and-forth between the two campaigns over which candidate is less electable in a general election.

Shaheen told the Washington Post that Republicans would jump on the Illinois Democrat's "drug use" and said it would lead to more questions. "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's campaign manager said the salvo sounded borne of desperation.

"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," David 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. He plans on winning this campaign by focusing on the issues that actually matter to the American people."

But a source close to the New York Democrat's campaign said Clinton officials knew nothing of Shaheen's comments until they had been posted on the Internet. Shaheen, a garrulous and experienced politico, helped lead the New Hampshire campaigns for Sen. John F. Kerry in 2004 and Vice President Al Gore in 2000. He is married to former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, who is running for the Senate.

"Sen. Clinton is out every day talking about the issues that matter to the American people. These comments were not authorized or condoned by the campaign in any way," said Clinton spokeswoman Kathleen Strand.

Both Obama and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina have been hammering Clinton for months, suggesting that she is so polarizing that she can never win in swing states where independent voters are crucial. The Clinton campaign recently began responding in kind, criticizing Obama for shifting positions over the year and holding views that are too liberal for a general election audience.

Until Wednesday, most of those criticisms had been relatively tepid. During a conference call with reporters Tuesday, four elected officials who are supporting Clinton strenuously avoided mentioning Obama by name as they lobbed indirect criticisms of his record.

Though national polling still shows Clinton with a substantial lead over Obama, the latest CNN/WMUR poll in New Hampshire released Wednesday shows Clinton and Obama in a virtual deadlock, with Clinton at 31% and Obama at 30%.

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