JOHNSTON, Iowa – Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman Terry McAuliffe wants everyone to know: all is well in camp Clinton.
Despite sliding poll numbers in Iowa and New Hampshire, despite Bill Clinton's stepped up involvement in his wife's campaign and despite a rogue adviser's comment to a reporter that rival Barack Obama needs to be wary about his admissions of past drug use, McAuliffe says there's no reason to be concerned.
"You know, you hear this in campaigns all the time," McAuliffe said, referring to persistent reports of turmoil, panic and back-biting in Clinton land. McAuliffe spoke with FOX News Wednesday, on the eve of the final Democratic presidential primary candidates debate before the Iowa caucuses Jan. 3.
"We are the frontrunner, everybody's been going after us. We feel very good about where we are," McAuliffe said. "I'm chairman of the campaign and I can tell you we are happy. Everybody's working together. We're all focused to get people to the polls on Election Day and getting them to vote for Hillary Clinton, the candidate of choice and the candidate who can bring change."
A poll released Wednesday showed Clinton losing her footing in New Hampshire, compounding the losses she's sustained to Obama in the polls in Iowa.
The WMUR/CNN poll showed the New York senator's lead — which as recently as a month-and-a-half ago was at 20 points in New Hampshire — fading to a statistical tie with Obama. The poll put her at 31 percent and Obama at 30 percent.
Clinton's campaign was hoping to use New Hampshire as a potential fallback if things turn sour in Iowa. The Granite State's first-in-the-nation primary is to be held Jan. 8.
But Clinton still leads by double digits in national polls, and McAuliffe said too much is being made of a handful of state polls.
"There could be five or six polls out on a day and Hillary could be up in four, but if we're down in one, that one gets played," he said. "And then all of a sudden the campaign is in trouble. Everyone outside the campaign likes to make circular firing squads ... People on the outside like to chatter, but you know that's not going to get us off our mission of getting Hillary Clinton elected."
He said the campaign is not worried about New Hampshire either: "We have great roots there. The president was just there. Hillary's been there many, many times. Obviously it's a very important state for us, we're going to do very well there."
As for Iowa, where Clinton climbed into a hard-fought lead this summer but has seen her rise plateau and begin to erode, McAuliffe began the all-important task of managing expectations.
"You do the best you can, you lay it out. You can't look at one state as being determinate on who's going to be the nominee," McAuliffe said. "Iowa — great state — but if you remember, Bill Clinton did not campaign there in 1992 because Sen. Tom Harkin from Iowa was in the race. So with Hillary out there it's actually the first time the Clinton operation actually is out there campaigning."
The Clinton campaign was in a scramble late Wednesday after The Washington Post reported that Clinton adviser Bill Shaheen said Obama's past drug use could be a problem for him if he is the Democratic nominee. He said Republicans would dig hard to find the details of his youth, and that Democrats should consider this before they pick their nominee.
The Clinton campaign immediately said those comments were not authorized and Shaheen later apologized.
Obama campaign manager David Plouffe called the Shaheen comments "desperate."
McAuliffe didn't hesitate, though, when asked if Clinton would run negative or "comparative" television ads against Obama in New Hampshire on the issue of universal health care.
"We're clearly going to talk about Hillary's plan versus the other Democrats, absolutely. Because health care — you know the Iraq war obviously is a top issue for folks — but on the domestic front I believe it's health care and probably disposable income and the economy," he said. "On health care, no one knows more about health care than Hillary Clinton ... Everybody gets covered under Hillary Clinton's plan. That is a debate that you know we'll engage in, gladly engage in that debate."