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."
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