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Thu Jan 15 2003 21:07:11 ET

The "political black arts" -- those nasty tidbits that campaigns euphemistically call "opposition research" -- is at the center of an intense debate among Democrats this year, the NEW YORK TIMES is planning to report on Friday Page Ones, newsroom sources tell DRUDGE.

How much of the research should be used?

And are intra-party candidates inflicting too much damage on each other, leaving the eventual nominee wounded and weakened for a showdown with President Bush?

At the center of the maelstrom, Democrats say, is a 36-year-old aide to Gen. Wesley Clark, "a frenetic, colorful and, some contend, devious" communications strategist named Chris Lehane, the TIMES will report.

Lehane, a veteran of Al Gore's 2000 campaign and the Clinton White House, has emerged as Clark's secret weapon.

Now, Lehane has become a target in a fight among Democrats about whether opposition research is going too far. With Clark rising in the polls in New Hampshire and Howard Dean facing a spate of negative news reports.

"He's doing what he does, and what he learned quite well in war rooms and hard-fought campaigns," said one Democrat who works for a rival campaign. "It's just that right now, he's doing it inside the family, as opposed to across the fence. And so it's received differently. He's spilling blood in our house."


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