Gee, Thanks, Billy (Updated With Clinton Campaign Response)

A Clinton co-chair in New Hampshire has handed the Obama campaign an enormously valuable gift.

By publicly raising some as-yet unanswered questions about Obama's use of cocaine as a teenager, Billy Shaheen virtually guarantees that Obama will never be asked those questions or that if he is asked, he'll use a valid excuse to opt out of answering them. ("Why," he might say, "should I respond to a Clinton smear?")

The Clinton campaign cannot say that Shaheen is a minor nobody; he's a major somebody, a former state party chair, the husband to Jeanne Shaheen, and an adviser who talks to Clinton's state director daily.

The Obama campaign is angry.

Here's what Shaheen said, according to the
Washington Post .

"The Republicans are not going to give up without a fight ... and one of the things they're certainly going to jump on is his drug use," said Shaheen said Obama's candor on the subject would "open the door" to further 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."

A separate issue is whether the questions are valid, and whether Shaheen's sense of the GOP playbook is correct.

Do voters want to know whether Obama used cocaine beyond his teen years? Is it relevant? Has Obama, by conceding the mistake, satisfied the concerns of the public and the press? Arguably, so far as the Democratic primary goes, he has.

But Shaheen is probably correct that some Republicans will try to bring up the issue in some forum if Obama is the nominee. But nominees John McCain and Rudy Giuliani probably would not.

Regardless: this unforced error will hurt. Billy Shaheen wants Democrats to think about Obama and cocaine, but what they'll think about, instead, is how the Clinton campaign is raising the issue. It's fair to assume that Shaheen's comments were not sanctioned by Arlington.

"Senator Clinton is out every day talking about the issues that matter to the American people," said Howard Wolfson, the Clinton campaign's communications director. These comments were not authorized or condoned by the campaign in any way."