Mr. Penn, by his own accounting, ended up playing a part in electing 10 foreign heads of state.
However impressive his roster of clients, though, it has been the very breadth of Mr. Penn’s portfolio that has brought him in for criticism from detractors.
Recently, some labor leaders attacked Mr. Penn because one of his corporate clients tried to prevent workers from organizing. (Mr. Penn subsequently gave all oversight responsibilities for his company’s labor relations clients to other executives in the company.)
Dick Morris, who preceded Mr. Penn as Bill Clinton’s pollster before falling out of favor due to a sex scandal before the 1996 reelection, acknowledged Mr. Penn’s skill as a pollster and strategist, and said that he agrees with Mr. Penn’s assertion that Mrs. Clinton will be elected president on the basis of first-time female voters. (Mr. Morris also took credit for bringing Mr. Penn into the White House, a version of events that Mr. Schoen strongly disputes.)
But Mr. Morris thinks that Mr. Penn’s corporate client list—it includes the likes of Microsoft, Texaco and AT&T—is a conflict-of-interest scandal waiting to happen.
“I think he doesn’t know when to stop his commercial life and start his political life,” Mr. Morris said.
He pointed out that Burson-Marsteller promotes itself as the home of Mrs. Clinton’s chief strategist. “He’s letting himself and offering himself to be used by those who want to buy a piece of the incoming Clinton administration,” Mr. Morris said. “It’s a real risk for him.”
(Mr. Penn responds that he is not a lobbyist, and is very careful to keep his political and corporate activities separate.)
IN MICROTRENDS: THE SMALL FORCES Behind Tomorrow’s Big Changes, Mr. Penn—the author of the term “soccer moms”—offers more than 400 pages of observational evidence and hard data on groupings with names like “Ardent Amazons,” “Pro Semites” and “Vegan Children.” He even reserves a category for the mature and lusty women known as “Cougars.”
He also baptized “Impressionable Elites,” who he defines as people who make more than $100,000 and who care more about the character traits of candidates and other intangibles than studying their actual positions on the issues. The passage reads like a defense of Mrs. Clinton.
“And the flip side of all this is that the mass of voters have never been truer to the principle (expressed by V.O. Key, that got me into this business in the first place)—that voters are not fools,” Mr. Penn writes. He continues, “So if you can get over all the din created by the chattering elites and the out-of–touch journalists, you can talk to some pretty smart people out there.”
But of course, you need Mark Penn and his polls to find them.