Penn memo claims "shift to Hillary"

Hillary Clinton's chief strategist says he sees "big changes" in voter preferences.


Alex Koppelman
March 20, 2008 11:16PM (UTC)

Hillary Clinton's chief strategist, Mark Penn, is known for having made some rather outlandish claims over the course of this campaign -- often without regard to whether one claim contradicted one of his previous attempts. His latest memo, sent to reporters Thursday, fits the pattern.

In Thursday's memo, Penn claims, "There are some pretty big changes happening out there with the voters. Barack Obama recently declared himself the frontrunner in the race, although there are 10 contests remaining and MI and FL have not yet been decided. But a look at the polls shows that Sen. Obama's lead nationally with Democrats has been evaporating." Penn continues:

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The more that the voters learn about Barack Obama, the more his ability to beat John McCain is declining compared to Hillary. For a long time we have explained that poll numbers for a candidate who has not yet been vetted or tested are not firm numbers, and we are beginning to see that clearly. Just a month ago, the Obama campaign claimed that the polls showed Barack Obama doing better than Hillary against Sen. McCain. Now such numbers are a lot harder to find.

(The full memo can be read after the jump.)

At least one outside pollster is already dismissing Penn's analysis. On his blog, ABC News' Jake Tapper has the reaction of Peyton Craighill of the ABC News Polling Unit:

Mark Penn's note is full of overblown claims based on current polling. He's cherry picking numbers from recent polls. Much of his claim of a Clinton swing is based on the latest tracking data from Gallup in which Clinton is now ahead by 7 points. If you go back two more days Obama has a 7-point lead in a separate USA Today/Gallup poll. CBS has a new poll out today that shows a close 46-43 percent Obama-Clinton race. The CBS poll also has the match ups with McCain at 48-43 percent for Obama-McCain and 46-44 percent for Clinton-McCain. We see little indication of a shift to Clinton. Of the nine polls cited in his note, five of them are not airworthy.

Tapper notes that "not airworthy," in network lingo, refers to "polls so poorly done we are discouraged from mentioning them on air."

The full memo:

There are some pretty big changes happening out there with the voters. Barack Obama recently declared himself the frontrunner in the race, although there are 10 contests remaining and MI and FL have not yet been decided. But a look at the polls shows that Sen. Obama's lead nationally with Democrats has been evaporating. The Gallup daily tracking poll shows Hillary leading Sen. Obama among Democrats by 7 points, and the latest Zogby/Reuters poll has Sen. Obama's lead down from 14 points last month to just 3 points now. This suggests a strong swing in momentum in the race to Hillary since the Texas and Ohio primaries earlier this month.

The more that the voters learn about Barack Obama, the more his ability to beat John McCain is declining compared to Hillary. For a long time we have explained that poll numbers for a candidate who has not yet been vetted or tested are not firm numbers, and we are beginning to see that clearly. Just a month ago, the Obama campaign claimed that the polls showed Barack Obama doing better than Hillary against Sen. McCain. Now such numbers are a lot harder to find.

In the latest USA Today/Gallup poll, Hillary leads John McCain by 5 points (Hillary 51 / McCain 46) while Sen. Obama is only 2 points ahead of Sen. McCain (Obama 49 / McCain 47). This is a reversal from February, when Sen. McCain led Hillary by 4 points. The latest CNN poll also shows that Hillary leads Sen. McCain by a bigger margin than Barack Obama.

In several key states, Hillary is a stronger general election candidate than Barack Obama against John McCain. For example, the latest Survey USA poll has Hillary leading Sen. McCain by 6 points in Ohio while Sen. Obama trails Sen. McCain by 7 points. In Kentucky, Hillary's margin against Sen. McCain is 26 points better than Barack Obama's. In Missouri, Sen. Obama lags John McCain by 14 points while Hillary comes within 2 points of Sen. McCain. In Florida, the latest PPP poll shows Barack Obama losing to John McCain by 11 points while Hillary comes within 4 points of Sen. McCain. Last week's University of Central Arkansas poll showed Hillary leading Sen. Sen. McCain by 15 points in that state while Sen. Obama trails Sen. McCain by 16 points. And the latest Rasmussen poll showed Hillary leading Sen. McCain by 11 points in New Jersey while Sen. Obama trails Sen. McCain by 2 points.

Moreover, 24 percent of Florida Democrats say that if Florida's delegates are not counted at the Democratic convention in August, they are less likely to vote for a Democrat in November, according to the latest St. Petersburg Times/Bay News 9/Miami Herald poll. Since Florida is the single largest and most important swing state in the country and nearly 1.8 million Florida Democrats voted in the January primary, Democrats must find a solution to allow Florida's delegates to count if we are to have any hope of winning in November.

And in the crucial state of Pennsylvania -- the next Democratic primary battleground and the biggest state which has not yet voted -- the latest Quinnipiac poll shows Hillary doubling her Democratic primary lead over Barack Obama from 6 points to 12 points. In Pennsylvania, Hillary improved among men, maintained her 24 point advantage among women, and improved among younger, older, more educated and less educated voters. She leads in every region across the state (NE, SE, NW, SW, Central, Alleghany) with the exception of Philadelphia.

Ultimately, this Democratic nominating process is meant to select the candidate who will: a) be the best president -- the best commander-in-chief, steward of the economy, and exercise leadership; b) defeat John McCain; and c) promote and defend core Democratic principles such as universal health care. On all three fronts, Hillary is the best choice for the Democratic Party.

Hillary is the runaway leader on most qualified to be commander-in-chief. In the Ohio exit poll, 60 percent of Democratic primary voters said Hillary was most qualified to be commander-in-chief, compared with 37 percent for Barack Obama. In Texas, she led by 16 points, and in most other states, she led by 10 points or more. She also won among those who said the economy was the most important issue – by 12 points in Ohio, for example. And in the latest CNN poll, more voters say Hillary would do a good job on the economy than Barack Obama or John McCain. Finally, in the latest USA Today/Gallup poll, Hillary leads Barack Obama on strong and decisive leadership, managing the government effectively and having a clear plan for solving the country's problems.


Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

MORE FROM Alex Koppelman

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2008 Elections Hillary Rodham Clinton

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