The Huffington Post: State of the Union Scorecard by Mark Penn

Published January 27, 2010

It’s the Super Bowl of politics – the SOTU is watched in some years by up to 60 million people, and it’s usually the President’s best opportunity to address the country, tell them his plan, and bolster his approval.

What could have been a rather sleepy affair has taken on new significance with the loss of the Massachusetts Senate race – it has added dramatic tension and probably 10 million more viewers. How will the president handle the Mass. defeat? What will he say about healthcare? Is he moving to the center?

President Bush generally got little out of his State of the Union addresses. President Clinton did best in 1996 and 1998 — one against the backdrop of the Gingrich government shutdown and the other at the start of the Monica Lewinsky revelations. Clinton successfully pushed back on his critics and reassured the nation in those two pivotal speeches.

President Obama now has to do the same.

But perhaps the biggest questions around President Obama are exactly which course is he taking on so many critical issues – I think the choices he makes will determine the success of the speech and perhaps even of his presidency. So let’s go through his choices.

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MSNBC Morning Joe: Mark Penn on how Clinton years hold clues for President Obama

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On Morning Joe today, Mark Penn discussed how the Massachusetts election result is a wake up call to President Obama just as the failed midterm elections of 1994 were for President Clinton. Mark recommends that the Obama administration take a lesson from the Clinton years and begin to change direction, move to the center and to bipartisanship to keep their policies moving ahead.

Watch the video now at MSNBC

The Huffington Post: Strategy Corner: Stopping the Republican Comeback (Déjà Vu All Over Again) by Mark Penn

Published January 20, 2010

Once again an initially popular Democratic president tries to pass healthcare reform, raise taxes on the wealthy and expand domestic spending. And once again the voters send a sharp signal that they want him to chart a more centrist course. As Yogi Berra said “It’s déjà vu all over again.”

President Clinton’s wakeup call came with the 1994 mid-term elections — Obama’s came a year earlier with yesterday’s special election in Massachusetts.

In response to the similar situation, President Clinton fundamentally changed everything — his team, his policies, and the overall direction and message of his administration. He moved to the center with a balanced budget, welfare reform, and policies that helped concerned moms raise their kids, leaving behind the divisive bitterness of his first two years. As a part of that new team then, I saw how President Clinton consciously took his presidency back to the centrist message of his presidential campaign and relentlessly pursued swing voters; he didn’t go small, he went to the vital center — 24 million jobs and a balanced budget were big accomplishments.

President Obama now has plenty of time to turn this around before facing the kind of losses President Clinton did. But stopping the Republican machine now will not be done on the basis of words alone — it will take actions and results to calm this electorate.

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Chicago Tribune: Mark Penn on President Obama’s First Year

Obama’s first year: Mark Penn’s take
President’s slide in the polls is “cause for concern,” but not irreversible.

Mark J. Penn, who served as the chief strategist for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, has some views about where President Barack Obama stands near the end of his first year in office.

Obama’s sliding support in the polls is “a real cause for concern,” the veteran pollster says, but the president’s situation is not irreversible.

Penn is worldwide CEO of Burson-Marsteller, a public relations and public affairs firm. He ran polls for former President Bill Clinton in 1995 through 2000 and also ran weekly White House strategy meetings.

This is what Penn said in a conversation with the Washington Bureau:

Q: How serious is the overall drop off in the president’s job approval rating? Is this a bad sign for Democrats in the upcoming mid-terms? What advice would you give to the president to restore those numbers to January 2009 levels?

Penn: “The president’s numbers are a real cause for concern for himself and the party – but they certainly can be reversed at this point.

“It’s only been a year and people are uneasy but not opinion is not yet set and is quite mushy. Progress on the economy and in Afghanistan are the big things that can make a difference. I don’t think the president can do a lot right now with words – the public expects that the first year is going to be the foundation and by the second year they are looking for results. If he delivers them, these poll numbers will quickly reverse themselves.

“Working for six years with President Clinton certainly taught me the lesson that how a president can change public opinion over time as in 1995 he had about a 32 percent approval rating and almost doubled it by 1996 – president Clinton said he would focus on the economy like a laser, he did, and the public quickly recognized the progress.”

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CNBC Kudlow Report: Mark Penn on Congressional and Presidential approval ratings

Democratic strategist Mark Penn appeared on CNBC’s The Kudlow Report yesterday to discuss approval ratings for Congress and President Obama.

Watch the video at