Clinton Apologizes To Obama Over Aide's Drug Remark

By Anne E. Kornblut and Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, December 14, 2007

JOHNSTON, Iowa, Dec. 13 -- On a day when her campaign advisers had hoped the final debate before the Iowa caucuses would help Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton reestablish herself as the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, Clinton offered a formal apology to Sen. Barack Obama and accepted the resignation of a prominent campaign organizer who had raised questions about her rival's use of drugs.

Bill Shaheen, Clinton's New Hampshire co-chair and the husband of former governor Jeanne Shaheen, said in a statement announcing his resignation that his remarks to The Washington Post on Wednesday were "in no way authorized" by the senator from New York or her campaign.

"I made a mistake," Shaheen said, adding that it was a "personal decision" to step aside as co-chairman of Clinton's New Hampshire operation.

Obama advisers were reluctant to let the issue drop, asserting that Shaheen, a close friend of the Clintons, had deliberately put the drug issue into play in the primary in an effort to stem Obama's rise in early-voting states. In his autobiography, the senator from Illinois acknowledged experimenting with marijuana and cocaine in his younger days.

Even after seeking to play down Shaheen's comments, Mark Penn, Clinton's chief strategist, used the word "cocaine" in a television appearance late Thursday. Obama officials seized on it as evidence that the Clinton team was intentionally trying to associate Obama with drug use.

"The issue related to cocaine use is not something the campaign is in any way raising," Penn said on MSNBC's "Hardball."

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.

The uproar overshadowed the last Democratic debate before the caucuses. It was held Thursday afternoon under the auspices of the Des Moines Register and Iowa Public Television.

The debate proved to be a 90-minute respite from the pitched political battle raging here and in New Hampshire. There were no sharp exchanges, only a few gentle jabs. The candidates found general agreement by promising voters that, if elected president, they would end the Iraq war, raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans, enact universal health care and curb the use of foreign oil.

The closest any of the front-running candidates came to engaging with one another was when Clinton alluded to her leading rivals in Iowa -- Obama and former senator John Edwards (N.C.) -- by suggesting that she is better equipped to bring the kind of significant change that many Democratic voters are looking for in a new president.

"Everybody on this stage has an idea about how to get change. Some believe you get change by demanding it; some believe you get it by hoping for it," she said. "I believe you get it by working hard for change. That's what I've done my entire life. That's what I will do as president."

Obama has campaigned consistently on the themes of hope and change, and polls of Iowa voters show that they put a higher priority on a candidate who represents fresh ideas and a new direction rather than someone whose main asset is experience.

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