Based on two sources I spoke with today, the word inside the Clinton camp is that Mark Penn is increasingly seen as too “politically mechanical” and there is a serious internal sense that Iowa is going to be lost if Penn’s old-time strategy is followed to the end. Apparently [as reported by Glenn Thrush in Newsday this morning] Penn is poll and focus group-driven and is watering down what little authenticity she has left at a time when Obama is surging. This, while Penn and his team are simultaneously doing back-channel dirty work – such as the drug-hit Shaheen came out with yesterday – that some staffers feel is doing them more harm than good by making them look desperate.
Others from the former President’s cadre of advisers are encouraging the Senator to be less cautious and more spontaneous.
I’m told that Penn is suspected of privately encouraging Billy Shaheen [who has resigned as I write this] to make the “drug” comments that Shaheen and Senator Clinton have now apologized for. While chief strategist Wolfson said that it was not “authorized” by the campaign, another source tells me it was indeed seeded by senior campaign personnel.
I also know that no one I talked with wants Mark Penn as “a face” of the campaign. “I think many of us here are growing increasingly uncomfortable with him and his approach,” says one, while conceding that he does, at the moment, seem to have the confidence of the Senator.
Additionally problematic for the camp, says one, is that it provides a big opening for questions about Hillary Clinton’s recreational drug use. Not that this should matter, but unfortunately it looks like it’s going to get some mileage.
I guess the question now is – does Penn last? Is this just a bump or are the wheels coming off?
My money is currently on a Clinton loss in Iowa and big trouble in New Hampshire – where the Shaheen/Clinton relationship, which was supposed to provide major strategic advantage – may now be a liability.
EDIT: Just as I published this blurb, Mark Penn went on Hardball and said,
“The issue related to cocaine use is not something the campaign is in any way raising.”
I see, scumbag.