Barack Obama's campaign leaders in New Hampshire demanded this morning that Hillary Clinton's campaign refrain from "gratuitous" character attacks, citing a top Clinton official's assertion yesterday that Obama's youthful experimentation with drugs could be a general election liability.
"Such tactics have no place in New Hampshire, they have no place in this race and they do nothing to solve our problems," state Senator Martha Fuller Clark, a co-chairwoman of Obama's New Hampshire campaign, said at a press conference in Concord.
A Clinton spokeswoman said that Clinton personally apologized to Obama this morning at Reagan National Airport on their way to Iowa for the last debate before the Jan. 3 caucuses, telling the Illinois senator that personal attacks are not part of her campaign.
Bill Shaheen, a co-chairman of Clinton's New Hampshire campaign and the husband of former governor Jeanne Shaheen, told the Washington Post on Wednesday that Republicans would exploit Obama's experimentation with drugs in a general election, hurting his chances of getting elected.
"It'll be, 'When was the last time? Did you ever give drugs to anyone? Did you sell them to anyone?' " Shaheen said in the interview. "There are so many openings for Republican dirty tricks. It's hard to overcome."
Clinton's New Hampshire campaign quickly disavowed the comments, and he apologized in a one-sentence statement through the campaign.
Obama wrote about his use of marijuana and cocaine as a youth in his memoir, "Dreams From My Father," and he has used his experience as a cautionary tale in discussions with young people on the campaign trail this year.
Ned Helms, another co-chairman of Obama's New Hampshire campaign, characterized the attack as a response from the Clinton campaign after seeing its large lead in New Hampshire polls disappear over the past several months. Two polls released on Wednesday showed the race statistically tied.
"I can understand the Clinton campaign is worried about losing what they viewed as a once-insurmountable lead, and we absolutely anticipate that this should be a tough campaign and we should challenge one another on our ideas," he said.
Helms noted a pattern of personal attacks by Clinton's campaign and its supporters, from the campaign's questioning Obama's portrayal of himself as only recently interested in running for president by citing an essay he wrote in kindergarten, to an e-mail circulated by Clinton supporters in Iowa calling Obama a secret Muslim. The volunteers were asked to leave the campaign.
"I suppose you could say the first time, 'Well, that's just what happens,' " Helms said. "But when you see a pattern of people making a statement, and then there's a follow-up statement that 'Oh, that wasn't authorized,' it doesn't take a genius to see there's a thread going on here.
"How many times are we going to see the isolated incident followed by the denial before we just simply say, 'Would you please stop? Let's get back to the campaign.' "