Donald Lambro

"It doesn't mean that Obama has South Carolina wrapped up. It does mean that the white candidates are splitting the white vote," he asserted.

But something greater than Oprah's gargantuan popularity may be at work here. As Obama's numbers have risen in the early state contests that will kick off the 2008 primary season, Clinton operatives have escalated their attacks, making their candidate appear mean-minded and vindictive in the process.

First they mocked his political ambition, pointing to an essay he wrote in elementary school about his plans to be president. Then they attacked him for keeping a "slush fund" that turned out to be a perfectly legal political action committee (PAC) to raise money to give to other candidates, including a contribution to Hillary's Senate campaign.

Last week, things got even nastier. Bill Shaheen, the Clinton co-chairman in New Hampshire, raised Obama's admission that he had tried drugs as a youngster, declaring that this would open him up to GOP-led questions in the general election, such as, "When was the last time? Did you ever give drugs to anyone? Did you sell them to anyone?"

The attacks suggested a rising desperation among Hillary's high command as they saw her polling numbers erode and Obama's continuing to rise.

Shaheen tried to back away from his remarks last week, saying that he "deeply regretted" his comments, but such vituperrious remarks have left a bad taste in voters' mouths toward the Clinton camp.

The Obama campaign shot back with deadly accuracy: "Hillary Clinton said attacking other Democrats is the 'fun part' of this campaign, and now she's moved from Barack Obama's kindergarten years to his teenage years in an increasingly desperate effort to slow her slide in the polls," campaign manager David Plouffe said in a statement.

"Senator Clinton's campaign is recycling old news that Barack Obama has been candid about in a book he wrote years ago, and he's talked about the lessons he's learned from these mistakes with young people all across the country. He plans on winning this campaign by focusing on the issues that actually matter to the American people."

Score another round for Obama.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.