The battle for the Democratic presidential nomination took a sharp turn away from the hunt for delegates yesterday morning after an adviser to Barack Obama had to quit the campaign for making disparaging remarks about Hillary Clinton.
Samantha Power's style won over many journalists, diplomats and one presidential contender. But outspokenness became her undoing, forcing the Pulitzer Prize-winning author to quit Obama's presidential campaign yesterday after publication of an interview in which she called his Democratic rival "a monster."
The 37-year-old Harvard professor and Time magazine columnist gave up her position as a foreign policy adviser to Obama and apologized for describing Clinton in "such negative and personal terms."
But the trouble for Obama did not end there. In an overseas book tour earlier, Power also raised doubts about the candidate's position on Iraq, forcing Obama to assure the public yesterday that he had not weakened his resolve to withdraw troops from Iraq and "bring this war to an end in 2009."
At the end of another day of distraction for his campaign, Obama had lost one of his earliest, and certainly most charismatic, advisers. And Power - who two experts said might have lost her way at the fuzzy intersection of her multiple roles as author, journalist and campaign operative - saw her comments open a new line of attack for the New York senator.
"If you are book writer promoting yourself and your work, you are supposed to be provocative and interesting and tell the truth," said Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism. "Candidates are not there to speak the truth in all of its glory. They are there to win an election."
The contretemps over Power's words came just a week after another controversy erupted over whether Obama's top economic adviser had told Canadian officials that Obama did not fully embrace his own attacks on the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The missteps distracted from the candidate's push to regain momentum after losing primaries Tuesday in Ohio, Texas and Rhode Island.
"The problem for them is having a couple of these missteps at exactly the wrong time," said Joe Trippi, a top strategist for former Sen. John Edwards during his presidential run. Although he called attacks by Clinton on Obama's foreign policy experience "unfair," Trippi added: "It's not a good thing to have one of your leading foreign policy proponents saying things that you have to back away from or explain."
Obama and his erstwhile adviser met in 2005, after the senator became intrigued by her prize-winning A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide. The two talked late into the night at a steakhouse, much of the conversation focusing on her belief that the U.S. should have done more to stop the devastating killing in Darfur and other places.
If Obama has been dubbed the "rock star" candidate, Power might have been his rock star adviser. Born in Ireland and schooled at Yale and Harvard Law School, she founded the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard. The Times of London said she would have fit right in with the Kennedy clan. She once played basketball with actor George Clooney, a fellow Darfur activist.
Although a member of Obama's inner circle, Power served as an unpaid adviser. She previously had confided to friends that she had ambitions to be secretary of state.
Her troubles began when she traveled to Britain to promote her latest book, Chasing the Flame: Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight to Save the World, a biography of the dashing United Nations envoy killed at U.N. headquarters in Baghdad in 2003.
In a free-wheeling interview conducted Monday by The Scotsman newspaper, Power used an expletive to say the Obama campaign had blown the recent primary in Ohio. She implied that voters there had become "obsessed" with the economy and that Clinton had played on those concerns.
"She is a monster, too - that is off the record - she is stooping to anything," Power told political correspondent Gerry Peev. She added of Clinton: "The amount of deceit she has put forward is really unattractive."
Peev followed a standard journalistic practice in requiring interview subjects - particularly political operatives - to reach agreement in advance if they want to keep matters out of the public domain.
James Rainey writes for the Los Angeles Times.