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The Chairman Wars

By Alec MacGillis
CONCORD, N.H. -- Among the many unexpected turns this primary season has been the unusual amount of attention accorded to the local volunteers helping advise, or "co-chair," the Democratic presidential campaigns here.

First there was Billy Shaheen, the lawyer and power-broker (and husband of former governor Jeanne Shaheen) who resigned his post as co-chairman of Hillary Clinton's New Hampshire campaign after he said in an interview that Democrats needed to worry about the kind of attacks that Republicans would make against Barack Obama for his admissions of drug use as a young man, should Obama become the nominee.

Now comes Jim Demers, a New Hampshire lobbyist and political strategist who is co-chairing Obama's campaign here, and who Clinton invoked in last night's debate as undermining Obama's claim that he's running a campaign free of special interest influence. "When it comes to lobbyists, Senator Obama's chair in New Hampshire is a lobbyist. He lobbies for the drug companies," Clinton said.

Obama shook his head as she spoke and said, under his breath, "That's not so."

Today, the Clinton campaign again demanded an explanation for Obama's denial of Demers' background.

The facts: Demers is registered with the New Hampshire Secretary of State's office to lobby New Hampshire lawmakers on behalf of 20 clients, a motley list that includes PhRMA (the drug industry association), Pfizer, the New Hampshire Troopers Association, a Las Vegas casino company, the International Bottled Water Association and online retailer e-Bay.

Demers, however, is not registered as a federal lobbyist in Washington -- which the Obama campaign said today is the crucial distinction. To contrast himself with Clinton, Obama has, like John Edwards, barred donations from federal lobbyists, but he continues to accept contributions from lobbyists at the state government level.

"After a third-place defeat in Iowa, Hillary Clinton is on the attack again," Obama spokesman Bill Burton said today, dismissing the Clinton camps' critique. "Jim Demers cannot and does not lobby the federal government or Senator Obama. Obama has been thoroughly vetted on this issue and it is being recycled by a desperate campaign fearing yet another defeat on Tuesday. [Obama] was shaking his head [during the debate] because her implication was that it violated our lobbyist pledge and his role quite clearly does not."

Demers is a well-known fixture in New Hampshire political circles, one of the handful of lobbyists/strategists who are a constant presence around the gold-domed State House in Concord, recognizable by their affable nature and suits that tend to be a cut above those worn by the state's citizen legislators. He advised Richard Gephardt's primary campaign in 2004 and Al Gore's in 2000.

As it happens, on Friday evening, the night before Clinton made her charge in the debate, Demers was asked in a brief interview whether the Obama campaign might be facing some more attacks over the weekend. "I don't know," he said. "We're the final three days and don't think that the voters have a lot of patience for campaigns ending on a negative voice."

By Web Politics Editor  |  January 6, 2008; 5:16 PM ET
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Although small, there is a difference between state lobbyists and federal lobbyists. Obama never got the chance to explain it so instead of drawing conclusions it would be best to investigate further.

Considering humans are fallible, a mistake ought not be the deciding factor. All the candidates have misled to some degree or another -- some much, much more so than others -- and made mistakes, theretofore wouldn't it be more productive to look at the varying degrees and whether the candidate offers an acceptable, viable and believable explanation?

Getting distraught over what may be merely an exaggeration is exactly what politicians want. Planting a seed of negativity -- true or not -- about their competition sends voters back to their camp, away from the competition.

Negative attacks are a distraction. Distraction is manipulation.

We will be voting soon in one of the most important elections in history.

Let's stay focused and not let one thing sway us until we know the whole story. To do otherwise -- make a decision based on one thing -- is irresponsible. Too much is at stake.

Posted by: serena1313 | January 7, 2008 12:21 AM | Report abuse

Hillary is smart, articulate, nuanced. But the time is not right, as painful as this must be for her and Bill. I feel badly for both of them and can understand why they think they're getting a raw deal -- they're human, after all, and have worked like dogs in this campaign. But the ridiculously amorphous term "change", if it means anything, means "something that is fresh and new." New faces, new voices, a new style of rhetoric. More than anything, it's about emotion. For all of Hillary's talent and tremendous policy expertise, there's no way to get around the fact that she's part of the old guard. Same faces, same voices, same rhetoric that we've seen before - or at least we're worried that it will all be the same. Her criticisms of Obama are in a sense legitimate - he hasn't been "vetted" like she has - but this is beside the point. He's smart enough to do the job (Harvard law grad, current constitutional law professor at U. Chicago, extremely savvy politically), he inspires people, and there's a real sense that a page in our history can now be turned.

Posted by: estrains | January 6, 2008 5:48 PM | Report abuse

To Goldie2: I don't think Clinton was really making a "fuss" that Obama's NH chair is a lobbyist per se. My interpretation of what she said during the debate was to call attention over Obama's claim about banning lobbyists vs. his actions. This is more akin to words vs action argument.

Posted by: CPCook | January 6, 2008 5:40 PM | Report abuse

Obama's popularity s MEDIA DRIVEN. The media attacked Clinton for making herself the "inevitable" candidate and moved Obama up to the man to beat. The Republican's believe they can beat Obama. They can play the race card but not the woman card. They question is, Is America stupid? Will they unwittingly allow a Republican to be elected president because they were played? Considering the 2004 election installing a lying warmonger to be elected I don't have much confidence in the voting public.

Posted by: JDeter | January 6, 2008 5:34 PM | Report abuse

So, Clinton was correct in calling that Obama's chair in NH is a lobbyist, and Obama is being inprecise is saying that that is not so. This is interesting.

As an independent observer, it seems that Obama was either hiding this fact or just did not know. Either way is bad. Now, his campaign is trying is spinning this by trying to draw a distinction between a Washington lobbyist vs a NH lobbyist.

Posted by: CPCook | January 6, 2008 5:32 PM | Report abuse

Clinton of course takes lots of money from PACS and federal lobbyists. And I would point out that she has made 2.3 billion dollars in earmarks since she has been Senator (LA Times) quite a bit of it on behalf of private companies whose people then donate to her campaigns. So I really don't understand how she can make a fuss over this one lobbyist, who is not a federal lobbyist, when she is so involved with federal lobbyists through their donations, and also gets donations through the dubious earmark process.

Posted by: goldie2 | January 6, 2008 5:30 PM | Report abuse

Shaheen unfairly suggested obama was a drug dealer.
THAT is why he reisgned. Not just because he talked about Obama's youthful drug use, which is something that Obama himself has talked alot about. It was suggesting Obama sold drugs.
Very dirty campaign tricks.

Posted by: julieds | January 6, 2008 5:24 PM | Report abuse

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