After wondering aloud to the Washington Post about Barack Obama’s past drug use, Bill Shaheen, Hillary Clinton’s national co-chair, stepped down today. Shaheen, who is the husband of former New Hampshire Gov. and Senate candidate Jean Shaheen, said Obama’s prior cocaine use would hurt his electability if he won the nomination.
Shaheen’s original comments to the Washington Post caused a minor brushfire , but it was largely contained inside the Beltway. Shaheen isn’t a national figure (nor is his wife), and the issue probably would have burned out after a few days if the Clinton campaign apologized—which it did—and moved on.
Instead, Shaheen’s resignation provides another news peg, and thus another chance for the story to permeate into the general consciousness. The story was initially about a Clinton rep critiquing Obama’s drug use. Now it’s about a shakeup in the campaign’s leadership. Not a good meme for a once-front-runner.
So, why fan the flames? Even if Shaheen thought it was morally right to step down, it’s better politically to keep him on board and quiet. Obama can’t bring up Shaheen’s comments too often, since it also reminds them that he did lines of cocaine. (That said, Obama did rally a fund-raising drive around the affair called “The cost of negativity.” Also, Obama strategist David Axelrod called the resignation the right thing to do .)
This may play worst in New Hampshire, where the Shaheens are popular figures among Democrats. Clinton has long thought New Hampshire to be her firewall if she loses Iowa, but this may shake that foundation if the Granite State press latches on to this story as expected.