Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 287
Mark Penn, the pollster who has directed strategy for Hillary Clinton since she entered the presidential race last year, has left his post at the top of Clinton's campaign.
Penn "stepped down" - and seldom has a euphemism been more apropos - under pressure yesterday after work he had been doing in support of a trade agreement between the U.S. and Columbia became the object of media attention. It is worth noting that the Columbia deal is not the first time Penn has attracted attention for playing perhaps too many angles at once: the PR and lobbying firm of which Penn is chief executive, even while he has directed strategy for the Clinton campaign, has also represented Countrywide Financial, of sub-prime mortgage fame, as well as Blackwater Worldwide, the security contractor whose actions in Iraq have sparked considerable controversy. Hillary Clinton, of course, has spoken repeatedly on the campaign trail of her opposition to further trade deals and has been vocal in her criticism of financial firms like Countrywide. Taken together, it's been a whole lot of chainsaws for Mark Penn to juggle at the same time.
Penn is said to be widely disliked throughout the Clinton campaign, but had remained afloat heretofore due to his close relationship with both Hillary and Bill Clinton. But Penn's run as chief strategist finally ended when both Clintons reportedly reacted with fury to the news that, in addition to his firm representing Columbia on the trade deal, Penn personally met with Columbian officials about the pact March 31.
I can't help that recall that Austan Goolsbee, Barack Obama's senior economic policy adviser, was excoriated by the Clinton campaign last month - with Mark Penn leading the charge - for supposedly double-talking the Obama campaign's position on trade deals vis-a-vis Canada. The controversy generated over that incident was seen by many as tripping up Barack Obama in Ohio, and, to a lesser extent, Texas.
With just two weeks to go before a must-win primary in Pennsylvania, news that Hillary Clinton's top campaign official was working to secure a trade deal when all such pacts are viewed with suspicion, if not outright hostility, by the white working class voters Clinton has been frantically courting for the past six weeks, the timing of this development could hardly have been worse for the Clinton campaign. Added to last week's news that Barack Obama had out-fundraised Hillary Clinton by two-to-one in March, the Penn story further undermines the "we've got momentum!" story line the Clinton campaign has been working hard to sell since March 4th's primaries in Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas and Vermont.
But for all that, there's a silver lining in for the Clinton campaign in the Mark Penn story. Whatever his flaws of temperament and judgment, Mark Penn is a world-class pollster and political mind, and he will remain with the Clinton campaign as a pollster and adviser. Don't forget that Mark Penn authored the "Children" ad, famous for the 3:00 A.M. phone call gimmick, that many credit with greatly helping Clinton in Texas. The Clinton campaign retains access to Penn's skills, but, with Penn no longer calling the shots, may find itself freed from the considerable baggage Penn carried with him both inside the campaign and with the media. And that may be not only the the best of both worlds, but, in hindsight, the role that Penn may have been best suited for from the beginning.
It is a bitter pill for Mark Penn to swallow at the moment, but in the long run it may be just what the doctor ordered for Hillary Clinton's campaign.
Monday, April 7, 2008
Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 287