Monday, April 07, 2008

The (semi-)resignation/demotion of Mark Penn (and what it means for Hillary)

By Michael J.W. Stickings

(See also Edward's post.)

This is, needless to say, the biggest campaign story of the moment. (and, right now, the top story at Memeorandum.) It seems to me that, for Hillary's sake, Penn should have quit long ago. The Colombia fiasco may have been the last straw, but his antics throughout the race, as well as his unpopularity in Hillaryland, should have been enough.

For more, see
ABC, CNN, the AP, the NYT, the WaPo, and Marc Ambinder.

As usual, TMV's Joe Gandelman has a great
round-up.

Of course, Penn is only stepping down as Hillary's chief strategist. He is staying on as chief pollster.


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For what his (semi-)resignation/demotion might mean, see:

Michael Crowley: "Questions: Was he pushed or did he jump? (Is it possible Penn decided Hillary's chances are too slim to keep sacrificing his corporate work?) What does this mean for the campaign's strategy? (Penn was always a proponent of leadership and experience themes, Wolfson has historically been more keen to humanizer her.)"

And:

Chris Cillizza: "While the news of chief political strategist Mark J. Penn's abrupt departure from Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign this evening took many in the Democratic political world by surprise, talk soon turned to how the move would impact the overall message of the campaign. One Democratic consultant, granted anonymity to speak candidly, predicted "a less combative campaign and more focused on her strengths."

In other words, get set for a softer, more amiable Hillary.

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But will it make a difference?

The harder, nastier Hillary -- the Hillary of the "kitchen sink" attacks on Obama -- was successful in Ohio and Texas (where she won the primary, if not more delegates overall), but was she successful because she went negative, because she was bound to do well in those two states, or because Obama was going through a stretch of bad news and because the media were bound to turn on Obama eventually (which they did)?

Because of all of that working together, I would say. The problem is, the kitchen sink didn't stick, Hillary has of late been going through her own stretch of bad news (e.g., the Bosnia lie), and her negativity is nothing compared to Obama's positivity. It may simply be that this isn't her time -- or, rather, that it was, until Obama came along and, earlier this year, zoomed into the lead, not just as a presidential candidate but as the leader of a genuinely historic movement that has engaged and inspired millions.

Against Obama, Hillary's negativity has seemed petty and desperate. And it may now be far too late to do anything about it.

Still, what does she have to lose? The nomination? Well, she's pretty much lost that already. Her only real hope is to win big in Pennsylvania, to win Indiana, to come close in North Carolina, and for Obama to stumble so much (and so dramatically) that the superdelegates have no choice but to go with her. She has gone negative, trying to push Obama into such a stumble, but that didn't work, not in any long-term way. So why not go positive now? Why not see if that works?

Even if it doesn't, at least she may he able to recover some of her dignity.

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