Suddenly, the Hillary Clinton campaign sounds a lot like the Rudy Giuliani campaign.
On the campaign plane to New Hampshire after a devastating third-place finish in the Iowa caucuses– nine percentage points behind winner Barack Obama — chief strategist and pollster Mark Penn said, “We need to win February 5.”
Speaking for more than a half-an-hour, Penn suggested that Clinton could get all the way to Feb. 5 without a single primary victory and still win the nomination.
“We are not seeing a change in the national polls whatsoever,” said Penn, echoing the Giuliani line. “There were several out today which showed a very large lead indicating the stability of her votes in the February 5 states.”
“President Clinton lost five states before he won a single state in his quest for the nomination,” Penn added, as he faced a barrage of questions about Clinton’s darkened prospects, the campaign’s difficulty in finding an effective message, her plan to rebound and, with a compressed calendar of primary states, whether a rebound was even possible even for the formidable Clinton machine. “I think the critical day is February 5, now everybody knows that there is a race. But I think it comes down to a large majority of delegates being decided then.”
I asked Penn how the Clinton Feb. 5 strategy differed from that of Giuliani, who has become increasingly irrelevant in recent weeks as he watched the Iowa contest from the sidelines.
“We are competing in these states and not waiting till February 5,” Penn said.
When I asked him if competing, without winning, was sufficient to ultimately win a national nomination, he said, “We are competing in all these states and we’ll see what happens.”
When I asked Penn about the comments David Axelrod, Obama’s senior strategist, made to me denigrating Penn’s book Microtrends, which argues that a collection of small groups can make big changes, because it failed to recognize the power of “macrotrends,” big movements, like the Obama campaign, that could not be stopped, Penn said cuttingly, “If Axelrod wants to say he is a force that cannot be stopped I think that’s an overstatement that can come back to bite him.”
Penn seemed most eager to explain how Obama beat Clinton amongst women, which he did by an almost five-point margin.
“I think there was a large turnout of younger people,” he said.
He said that the Clinton campaign had exceeded its get-out-the-vote goals but had underestimated how effective Obama’s organization would be.
Asked if he saw the loss coming, he said, “We saw a late shift, really over the last week or so. We’re still analyzing what happened. My hunch is that we targeted a universe based on 2004 and it turned out to be a very different group.”
The different group in question was an unprecedentedly high number of caucusgoers, many of them intent on sweeping Obama to victory.
He also complained about what he characterized as a lack of media scrutiny for Obama.
“I think you guys are going to have to decide does everyone know everything they need to know about Barack Obama,” said Penn. “I don’t know. That’s a decision you’re going to have to make.”
When I pressed him as to what he thought, he added, “At this point his record, he certainly, his record is not really well known. I think she is really well known. She is fully vetted.”