Reports of Penn's ouster may be greatly exaggerated

Mark Penn apparently will remain an advisor and pollster for the Clinton campaign.

By Steve Benen

Published April 8, 2008 2:35PM (EDT)

Following up on an item from the weekend, a lot of Democrats, most notably Hillary Clinton supporters, breathed a sigh of relief late Sunday when the campaign announced that Mark Penn was no longer Clinton's top campaign strategist. There was talk that Penn would maintain some kind of role with the team, but few took that seriously -- when the campaign replaced Patti Solis Doyle as Clinton's campaign manager, they said the same thing, but it was just a courtesy to lessen the blow of being fired.

But Monday, after the news surfaced, we started to get the sense that Penn may have lost his title, but he hadn't actually gone anywhere.

Mr. Penn took part on the campaign's morning message call [yesterday] morning, as usual. This afternoon, he is also scheduled to be on a call with Clinton and other aides to begin to prepare for Saturday's presidential debate in Philadelphia. Mr. Penn "is still going to be very much involved," a senior campaign official said.

So, if Penn is still "very much involved," he's still part of the team, he's still on the conference calls shaping the campaign's message, and he'll still be responsible for preparing Clinton for upcoming debates, it starts to look as though Penn lost his title, but very little else.

The New York Daily News reported that Penn will maintain his "role as an adviser and pollster" for the Clinton campaign, and quoted a Penn confidant saying, "Reports of Mark's death are greatly exaggerated."

The Huffington Post added that Penn hosted a conference call with Burson-Marsteller's managing directors to "persuade them that the fallout from his resignation was both overblown and would soon pass."

The angle to watch moving forward is whether the same voices urging Penn's ouster late last week pick up again in response to reports that Penn isn't actually gone. On CNN Monday, Paul Begala explained, "I'm not going to lie to you, there's a lot of pressure among pro-Clinton labor leaders, but also non-labor leaders who've been unsatisfied with Penn's strategy, who've been disappointed in Penn's conflict of interest and there's still a clamor to eliminate him entirely from that campaign. And, and I don't think the Clinton campaign has done that yet. I think Penn is still very much involved."

Meanwhile, the Change to Win labor federation, which supports Barack Obama, has posted a blog item that argues, "Mark Penn Still Has to Go."

Looks like the campaign's headache has not yet gone away.

Steve Benen

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