WASHINGTON — With a sparkling intellect, a mane of auburn hair and a Pulitzer Prize-winning book to her credit, Samantha Power cut a disarming path just about anywhere she went.
Her style won over many journalists, diplomats and one presidential contender. But outspokenness became her undoing, forcing Power to quit Barack Obama's presidential campaign Friday after publication of an interview in which she called his Democratic rival, Hillary Rodham Clinton, "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." She said the remarks were inexcusable and contradictory to her admiration for Clinton.
But the trouble for Obama did not end there. In an overseas book tour, Power also raised doubts about the candidate's position on Iraq, saying he may not be able to withdraw all U.S. combat troops from Iraq within a year as he has promised on the campaign trail. That forced Obama to assure the public Friday that he had not weakened his resolve to withdraw troops 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 Powers saw her comments open a new line of attack for Clinton.
Clinton said the flap demonstrated her rival's inexperience and untrustworthiness. Obama "has attacked me continuously for having no hard exit date (from Iraq), and now we learn he doesn't have one," she said while campaigning in Mississippi.
Obama, noting that Clinton voted in 2002 to authorize the war, said, "She doesn't have standing to question my position on this issue."
Power, a Pulitzer prize-winning author, said of Clinton in an interview with a Scottish newspaper, the Scotsman: "She is a monster, too — that is off the record — she is stooping to anything."
Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said that Power had to step aside because Obama "cannot condone" her name-calling against Clinton.
Separately, Power told the BBC that Obama "will try to get U.S. forces out as quickly and as responsibly as possible" but that the two-brigade per month plan he has outlined is "the best case estimate of what it would take."
She said he wouldn't pull troops out based on a campaign plan alone, but would draw an "operational plan" based on military consultations he doesn't yet have access to.
Power's resignation came a day after Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson compared Obama to former special prosecutor Kenneth Starr for his criticism of Clinton.
McCain gets testy: Republican Sen. John McCain, showing a flash of the temper he is known for, repeatedly cut off a reporter Friday when asked whether he had spoken to Democratic Sen. John Kerry about being his vice president in 2004. "Everybody knows that I had a private conversation. Everybody knows that, that I had a conversation," McCain said. "And you know it, too. No. You know it, too. No. You do know. You do know."
A toss-up: In a race that has become surprisingly close, voters will decide today whether a Republican dairy magnate or a Democratic scientist will fill out the remainder of former GOP House Speaker Dennis Hastert's term in northern Illinois. Democrat Bill Foster and Republican Jim Oberweis are virtually deadlocked in what should be a solidly Republican district, according to polls and political observers.