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The Process Primary

Headed into tonight's big Democratic Jefferson-Jackson day dinner, the story of the moment is the Clinton campaign's "planting" of a questioner in the audience at an Iowa Hillary event. Hillary's opponents are pouncing--today the Edwards campaign sent out an email with fully ten links to diffferent iterations of the story. And Andrew Sullivan sees loathsome deviousness.

Planting is clearly a big no-no, and this is a real embarassment for Hillary. But one word in her defense: Planting someone at your own event, to ask about your energy plan, is nowhere near as bad as planting someone at a rival's event in the hope of embarassing them. This story has gotten extra traction because, as people are noting, last month Hillary accused a man who questioned her about Iran of being a "plant." But that's not what was happening here. That is a dirty trick; this is tacky propagandizing.

More broadly, we now seem to be in an extremely process-oriented phase in the campaign. With most of the substantive issues pretty well hashed-out, and the differences relatively small, the media is getting very excited about campaign mechanics and goof-ups like this, or the epic Maid-Rite tip controversy. (Andrew's even more furious about that one.) Something about how the Clinton machine operates fascinates people (and I'm guilty, too--I just finished such a story for the forthcoming TNR.) If it's true, as Mark Penn likes to say, that voters really care about issues despite the elite media's obsessesion with process and personality, then Hillary should be fine. But if not....

Update: Edwards is pushing this hard, using the episode to liken Hillary to George Bush. His campaign is also circulating stories of a related episode from back in April.  It'll be interesting to see if Edwards take a shot at tonight's dinner (which I'll be blogging about).

[Photo via LVRJ

--Michael Crowley