2008 Mark Penn’s Perspective
posted by October 10 at 10:50 AMon
I just got off a conference call with Penn, who had some interesting things to say about the Clinton campaign here in Washington and around the country.
One thing that leaped out at me: Penn prefaced his discussion of Clinton and Washington State by saying, “There isn’t very much current polling in Washington State.” Then he pointed to the same 5-month-old poll that Ron Sims pointed to in September when he tried to tell me that Clinton was in the lead here. But there is, in fact, more current polling. It’s not perfect, but it’s here, and it shows Obama doing better in Washington than Clinton or John Edwards in head-to-head matches with the top Republican contenders.
Penn told us: “This is shaping up as a very good state for her. Support here continues to grow and strengthen.”
Maybe. But in addition to the recent poll, there’s also the matter of Obama having out-fundraised Clinton in Washington State in the first two quarters of this year (we’ll find out soon whether that trend continues in the third quarter).
I mentioned the more recent poll and the fundraising figures to Penn and told him it’s actually Obama who seems to have more momentum in Washington than Clinton. I asked him why that would be, especially when in national polls and in many other states it’s Clinton who is emerging as the clear front-runner.
“I think Obama had a lot of momentum, but I think that momentum is shifting,” Penn responded. He said over the summer there was a burst in enthusiasm for Obama all around the country, and that this had registered in donations to Obama and strong poll showings for the Illinois Senator, but that now this enthusiasm is abating.
“That pattern has now reversed itself,” Penn told me. “So that she’s doing better than Obama, because the more people have learned about Obama, particularly over the summer period, the more they have felt that she’s the one really ready to be president… Our sense is that we’re seeing some of the same trends here in Washington.”
More in the jump…
Backing up to the bigger election picture, Penn said that he's seeing "a tremendous consolidation of the numbers around Clinton." That is, she's doing better than her opponents in most national polls and in many state polls—except in Iowa, which, Penn conceded, is still "extremely competitive." He called Clinton's momentum this early on "the surprise of this campaign."
And, he added: "What we've seen is as the Senator has strengthened in the primary she has strengthened in the general election." He cited recent polls showing Clinton now 7 to 9 points ahead of Giuliani.
Penn sees two groups that were key in the last election—Hispanics and women—as being key again this cycle, and he said Clinton is increasingly seen as favorable by both groups. "We continue to believe one of the major factors will be an outpouring of first-time women voters eager to elect a woman as president," he told us.
What's making people gravitate toward Clinton? Penn dropped all the usual Clinton campaign buzz-words (strength, experience, confidence, competence, proven track-record) but added: "It really turned out she was more famous than known, and she consistently shattered the previous conceptions about her... I really think our biggest strategy in the campaign has been in some sense no strategy at all. People had a very outdated image of the Senator in places outside of New York… What we tried to do was just give her the kind of exposure that would let people see for themselves how ready she is."
Another reporter on the conference asked about what Adam Nagourney of The New York Times recently called the perils of playing front-runner.
"I said in that article that she's been running a strong primary campaign that has had the almost secondary benefit of being seen nationally, and we've seen her national numbers go up as well. But it was and is a primary campaign that she's been running... We're taking absolutely nothing for granted.
"People always say, 'Is she electable?' What I do is point out that not only is she electable, but she's ahead. But I don’t want that to be misinterpreted in any way as being complacent... Rather than sitting on anything, we've been continually working and advancing, rolling out policy proposals, campaigning even harder."