CARSON CITY, Nev.—What's a million dollars and a little back-stabbing among fellow Democrats?
Enough to set off the first full-scale fight of the fledgling 2008 presidential campaign between the front-runners, Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois.
And perhaps enough to kill talk of a new, less hostile politics—and maybe even speculation about a Clinton-Obama or Obama-Clinton ticket.
At the center of the feud is David Geffen, the entertainment mogul who co-founded DreamWorks studio, helped Bill Clinton raise millions from Hollywood, then turned on his old friend. He hosted a star-studded fundraiser for Obama this week, then trashed the Clintons.
Geffen raised $18 million for Bill Clinton in the 1990s, when Clinton treated Southern California like an ATM. Hillary Clinton wanted the same ready cash.
But the Geffen who slept in the Lincoln Bedroom during the Clinton years is no longer their friend. Some say it's because a Geffen friend was passed over when President Clinton was handing out pardons on his last day in office. Some say it's more personal than that.
Either way, Geffen hosted a gala fundraiser for Obama on Tuesday, raised $1.3 million and introduced him to such glitterati as actress Jennifer Aniston and actor Eddie Murphy.
Twisting the knife, Geffen then told The New York Times that the Clintons are liars, that Hillary Clinton is coldly ambitious and that the former president hasn't changed his ways, an apparent reference to his womanizing.
"Everybody in politics lies, but they (the Clintons) do it with such ease, it's troubling," he said.
Clinton's camp fired back Wednesday, accusing Obama of hypocrisy for telling a Nevada audience Sunday that he opposes "slash and burn" politics even as his top fundraiser was attacking the Clintons.
"I want to run a very positive campaign and I certainly don't want the candidates or supporters to engage in the politics of personal destruction," Clinton said when she was asked about the brouhaha Wednesday.
Her aides went further.
"While Senator Obama was denouncing slash and burn politics ... his campaign's finance chair was viciously and personally attacking Senator Clinton and her husband," said Howard Wolfson, Clinton's campaign communications director.
"If Senator Obama is indeed sincere about his repeated claims to change the tone of our politics, he should immediately denounce these remarks, remove Mr. Geffen from his campaign and return his money. ... (T)here is no place in our party or our politics for the kind of personal insults made by Senator Obama's principal fundraiser," Wolfson said.
Obama's camp returned fire, saying the Clintons liked Geffen well enough when he was raising money for them.
"It is ironic that the Clintons had no problem with David Geffen when he was raising them $18 million and sleeping at their invitation in the Lincoln bedroom," Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs said.
Gibbs accused Clinton herself of hypocrisy for accepting support from a South Carolina Democrat who's said that Obama's race would hurt him.
"It's a slim possibility for him to get the nomination, but then everybody else is doomed," said South Carolina state Sen. Robert Ford, who's black. "Every Democrat running on that ticket next year would lose—because he's black and he's top of the ticket."
Gibbs said it was "ironic that Senator Clinton lavished praise on Monday ... and is fully willing to accept today the support of South Carolina state Senator Robert Ford."
Democrats begin voting for their presidential nominee next January.
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