WATERLOO, Iowa - Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said Saturday that he doesn't think his campaign will be hurt by the effort last week by an adviser for rival Hillary Clinton to bring attention to his admitted teen drug use. He suggested that the Clinton campaign's increasingly negative tenor was a measure of a tightening race.
"I do think that the average American believes that what somebody does when they were a teenager 30 years ago is probably not relevant to how they're going to be performing as commander in chief of the United States," Obama said.
In an autobiography published in 1995, "Dreams From My Father," Obama disclosed his use of marijuana and cocaine as a teenager. He has acknowledged it publicly during his candidacy.
Obama spoke with reporters during a stop in Waterloo on a bus tour of northern Iowa. It was his first news conference since the incident.
He described briefly and matter-of-factly Clinton's personal apology to him last Thursday after comments made to the Washington Post by her former New Hampshire co-chair, Billy Shaheen, who has since resigned.
Shaheen had said that if Obama were to become the nominee, his past drug use would be seized on by Republicans and could jeopardize Democrats' chances of winning the general election.
Clinton said Shaheen's remarks were made without her knowledge or authorization.
Obama would not say whether Clinton's face-to-face apology, at a private meeting she'd asked for, seemed genuine. "I'm not going to characterize it beyond what I just said," he said.
Obama said he'd made clear to his staff that he would fire anyone who tried to dig up personal dirt on Clinton or any rival — although he said opposition research on policy and finances was fair game.
And he suggested no one would expose anything controversial about his past that has not yet been aired.
"The assumption is that lurking in other candidates' pasts who haven't been around for 20 years, there might be something," he said. "I hardly think that I've been underexposed during the course of this race.
"I understand that there's a history of politics being all about slash and burn and talking folks down — what I recall the Clintons themselves calling 'the politics of personal destruction' — which they decried," he said.
"My suspicion is that's just not where the country's at right now.
"When I was 20 points down they all thought I was a wonderful guy," Obama said of Clinton and her supporters. "So obviously things have changed here in Iowa and elsewhere in the country."