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When Carter assessed Hillary and Obama last week, he identified a key factor in campaigns: the political skills of the candidates and the people around them.

The first weeks have shown that Hillary – right now – has the best team when it comes to winning the weekly media wars.  But it may not be the best team for the long run.

Here’s my assessment so far:

Hillary: She won the early skirmishes because she dirtied both would-be Mr. Cleans, Obama and Edwards.  She won the short-term exchange with Obama over David Geffen.  And I’ll bet lunch that her team was behind the Big House and Bad Blogger stories that plagued Edwards.

But Hillary and his sprawling, aggressive team of consultants are taking a big gamble.  She’s not going to apologize for her Iraq war vote, as Edwards did.  She’s betting she can tough it out.  The question is whether the press will let her get by.  If reporters keep asking her, “was your vote a mistake?”, Hillary may fade like Ed Muskie in 1972 and Howard Dean in 2004.

Obama: He needs to fire his campaign spokesman.  And learn some campaign discipline himself.  Immediately after Hillary’s camp fired the first shot – demanding that Obama disavow Hollywood producer David Geffen for criticizing the Clintons – Obama’s spokesman fired back in kind.  In the now time-honored tradition of war-room politics, the spokesman took note of the Clintons hosting Geffen in the Lincoln Bedroom.

That was a mistake.  Even worse, the campaign hadn’t cleared the statement with Obama.  He was traveling and taking his kids to school, according to reports.

Here’s what Obama should have said:

“I don’t agree with what David Geffen said.  And we don’t need any more of this war-room politics.  Let’s all lower our voices and talk about the real lives of Americans and our future.”

One of the big problems we have in Democratic politics today is that every campaign operative wants to be James Carville.  They all want to prove they are the toughest, meanest hombre in town.  Too often, an aide with a happy trigger-finger ends up shooting his or her own candidate in the foot.

Obama’s greatest asset is that he looks like a different kind of politician.  His campaign nearly squandered that advantage.  But he did gain in one sense.  More Democrats see this as a Hillary vs. Obama contest now.

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