Monday, April 30, 2007

Pollster Mark Penn & the Clinton Campaign

The Washington Post did a story today by Anne E. Kornblut on Mark Penn who is, according to this article, not only a pollster for Hillary Clinton's campaign, but also a top-level advisor. In 1996, after Dick Morris had to resign for being publicly linked to a call-girl operation, Mark Penn became the Clinton campaign's pollster. According to all accounts he did a great job. His influence in the Clinton campaign in 2008, however, may strike some as problematic.

This is a quote from the Post article: If Clinton seems cautious, it may be because Penn has made caution a science, repeatedly testing issues to determine which ones are safe and widely agreed upon (he was part of the team that encouraged Clinton's husband to run on the issue of school uniforms in 1996).
If Clinton sounds middle-of-the-road, it may be because Penn is a longtime pollster for the centrist Democratic Leadership Council whose clients have included Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.).

If Clinton resembles a Washington insider with close ties to the party's biggest donors, it may be because her lead strategist is a wealthy chief executive who heads a giant public relations firm, where he personally hones Microsoft's image in Washington.

And if some opponents see Clinton as arrogant, her campaign a coronation rather than a grass-roots movement, it may be because of the numbers wizard guiding her campaign and the PowerPoint presentations he likes to give on the inevitability of his candidate.

Yet Penn also has everything that Clinton would want in a senior consultant: undisputed brilliance and experience, according to even his enemies; clear opinions, with data to back them up; unwavering loyalty; and a relentless focus on the endgame: winning the general election. And Clinton clearly adores him. She describes Penn in her autobiography, "Living History," as brilliant, intense, shrewd and insightful.

"Mark brings a certain certainty about his point of view that can feel like an anchor in stormy seas," said Geoffrey D. Garin, a Democratic pollster who is not connected to any campaign. "It's clear -- and more importantly, it's clear to Senator Clinton -- that he has a consuming commitment to her, and that's not been true in all of the previous Clinton consulting relationships."

Here's what concerns us about Penn's influence on Clinton. We believe that the way to win Ohio and other red states trending purple is to run as an economic populist much like Sherrod Brown did in 2006 in Ohio, as Jim Webb did in 2006 in Virginia, and as Jon Tester did in Montana. We don't think that Clinton is predisposed to run that kind of campaign and we worry that with Penn advising her, she won't run that type of campaign.

We think that Republicans will paint her as a social liberal, elitist and out of touch with the ordinary concerns of Americans. They will run a social populist campaign. The way to beat such a campaign is to run an economic populist campaign. Sherrod showed the way to carry Ohio. The question is can Hillary follow his lead with Penn advising her?

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