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Politico: The Strategy Corner with Mark Penn: Turning to the left or to the center?

Politico

By MARK PENN
Published November 17, 2009

Is President Barack Obama governing from the left or from the center? It’s a question no one quite seems to have a clear answer to. The post-ideological positioning that worked so well during the campaign is not proving as effective at holding the electoral coalition together given the mounting pressures of governing.

During the campaign, Obama nodded to the left on the Iraq war and civil liberties, but he also sent signals to the center that he would operate in a generally bipartisan manner, pursue the Afghanistan war vigorously and not raise taxes on 95 percent of all Americans. Centrist voters are looking to see that these promises are kept.

While the White House communications have been stellar overall, the echo chamber out there has left some uncertainty about important issues in the voters’ minds. Is the administration for or against waging the Afghanistan war on an all-out basis, including taking down the Taliban? Are jobs or regulating Wall Street its top priority? Should the insurance drug companies be reined in or an accommodation reached?

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Politico: The Strategy Corner with Mark Penn: White House is right to push back

Politico

By MARK PENN
Published October 27, 2009

Republicans suggest that the aggressive move by the Obama White House to take on people and organizations that disagree with it and oppose its policies is an unprecedented abuse of government resources.

This is, of course, nonsense.

The Obama team is engaged in a series of tough legislative and press battles and is stepping up its game, not stepping over the line. And the actions taken by the White House are mild and pale compared with those of the Gingrich and Bush years.

Let’s look at the Republican record on this.

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Politico: The Strategy Corner with Mark Penn: Crossroads to action

Politico

By MARK PENN
Published October 6, 2009

We are in the midst of the Obama administration’s most important week to date, as it faces three decisions that, taken together, could very well shape its legacy.

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Politico: The Strategy Corner with Mark Penn: Obama should carry, not be, the story

Politico

By MARK PENN
Published September 25, 2009

President Barack Obama can’t be faulted for following the failed Rose Garden strategy of some of his predecessors. Instead, he is inventing a new approach — a prime-time strategy that has him out, about and on television virtually all the time.

By and large, this strategy has worked. But he’s on the edge of saturation exposure. An economist I know said recently if you have the marketplace cornered with a precious good, you get the highest price by restricting the supply, not by making it available to everyone.

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Politico: The Strategy Corner with Mark Penn: Health care needs a clear message

Politico

By MARK PENN
Published September 1, 2009

The Obama administration’s health care reform efforts are spinning out of control, and the White House is taking on water, seeing its ratings fall and its leadership questioned. For a president whose communication skills are so justifiably well-regarded, the biggest obstacle comes as a surprise: the need for a clear and simple message of how his team’s version of health care reform will benefit ordinary Americans.

The administration must answer a series of questions before selling its plan to the public. What is the simple goal of health care reform? Control costs? Get a public option? Cover everyone? Cripple the insurance industry, which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) describes as the villain of the health care system?

The Obama team must also consider what Americans really want from their health care system. From the very first sentence of the Declaration of Independence, America has been a country of no limits on life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Americans want universal care as they define it — the unlimited right to have all the health care they need and access to the latest technologies to live longer and extend the lives of their loved ones. Voters are looking for health care reform that offers tangible benefits.

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Politico: The Strategy Corner with Mark Penn: End class warfare

Politico

By MARK PENN
Published July 29, 2009

It sounds so simple: Just tax the few to pay for social programs that benefit the many.

Yet no political idea — embodied by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s call to tax the wealthy to cover health care for everyone else — has ever proved more contentious. The country was founded on the principle of unlimited and unbounded opportunity. Despite what poll questions often appear to say, class warfare language, outside the Democratic primary electorate, has always been politically counterproductive, because it divides Americans from one another and from their own aspirations and dreams.

And class warfare could be especially problematic now, considering that many of the Democratic Party’s newest supporters are among the highest-income categories — groups that had previously voted overwhelmingly Republican.

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Politico: The Strategy Corner with Mark Penn: The 10 percent unemployment tripwire

Politico

By MARK PENN
Published July 9, 2009

Unless some tough decisions are made soon, rising jobless figures will most likely hit what could be a public opinion and political tripwire: 10 percent unemployment.

If and when the country crosses that line, it will be the No. 1 news story for days, recent stock market gains could recede, and consumer confidence will fall. And whether or not the economic crisis is coming to an end, such a high unemployment level has the potential to undermine the hard-won confidence enjoyed by the Obama administration. The Republicans will quickly claim all we have is more debt and fewer jobs.

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Politico: The Strategy Corner with Mark Penn: Health care reform done right

Politico

By MARK PENN
Published June 18, 2009

Everyone knows the story of what went wrong in 1993 with health care reform: virtually everything.

The plan was written by a White House task force, all the health care interests bitterly opposed it and spent heavily against it, the Republicans moved to kill it, Democrats in Congress got cold feet, and the reputations of Hillary Clinton and the Clinton administration were thrown for a loop. The 1994 midterm elections changed both houses of Congress, and for years afterward, health care reform was achieved only incrementally.

While Hillary Clinton and others spearheaded the move to cover 6 million children with the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, little else got done. Medical records remain a shambles, the medical malpractice system is broken, the number of uninsured is up and the Medicare trust fund is looking like a subprime mortgage.

The core political problem of health care is really not about all of the rhetoric or posturing. It’s about the math of universal health care.

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Politico: The Strategy Corner with Mark Penn: N. Korea, Iran nukes

Politico

By MARK PENN
Published June 3, 2009

To: President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

While America has been preoccupied with the fight over the Guantanamo detainees and now the GM bankruptcy, and the United Kingdom has been distracted by the expense forms of its parliamentary members, two other countries have decided to move forward with their plans for nuclear weapons: North Korea and Iran.

Their actions have become remarkably brazen.

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Politico: The Strategy Corner: Pelosi’s Action Plan

Politico

By MARK PENN
Published May 20, 2009

To Hon. Speaker Nancy Pelosi:

The accusations that the CIA did not properly disclose its waterboarding activities to you in 2002 are making you a lightning rod for criticism from the right and causing a split within Democratic ranks at a time when party unity is essential for the big fights ahead on health care and energy reform.

President Barack Obama has planted his feet firmly in the center on the war against terror and upped the troop levels in Afghanistan, allowed modified military trials and quashed the torture abuse photos that would have captured headlines and sympathy. Given that, he is making you appear out of step with his strategy and goals.

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Politico: Obama bets on the ‘House’ card

Politico

By MARK PENN
Published February 20, 2009

If the $800 billion stimulus bill works, Barack Obama will go down as a great president who took bold and decisive action at a time of growing national crisis — and the midterm elections, and even his reelection, will be a breeze.

If it fails, moderate Democrats in swing states will find themselves back in the private sector in two years and Obama will face what President Bill Clinton faced in 1995: a tough uphill battle.

If you watch the TV show “House,” you can easily recognize Obama’s move. In the show, a brilliant diagnostician seeks to solve medical mysteries by trying a series of different approaches on patients who are often hurtling toward an inexplicable death. After several attempts that fail, he tries an unconventional, risky treatment that works and the patient is saved — most of the time. Occasionally, he chooses the wrong course, wiping out the immune system in the process — and the patient dies.

Obama displayed leadership, guts, decisiveness and political savvy to move one of the biggest pieces of legislation in history through Congress in record time.

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Politico: Most affluent voters key to Obama sweep

Politico

By MARK PENN
Published November 11, 2008

Barack Obama promised he would lower taxes for 95 percent of Americans and presumably raise them for the 5 percent who benefited most under President Bush’s tax policies. But, remarkably, the most affluent 5 percent supported Obama and that was perhaps the key to his victory last week.

This group — and the rise of a new elite class of voters — is at the heart of the fast-paced changes in demographics affecting the political, sociological and economic landscape of the country. While there has been some inflation over the past 12 years, the exit poll demographics show that the fastest growing group of voters in America has been those making over $100,000 a year in income. In 1996, only 9 percent of the electorate said their family income was that high. Last week it had grown to 26 percent — more than one in four voters. And those making over $75,000 are up to 15 percent from 9 percent. Put another way, more than 40 percent of those voting earned over $75,000, making this the highest-income electorate in history.

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Politico: Transition to new administration tricky

Politico

By MARK PENN
Published November 4, 2008

The presidential campaign, in the end, had no October surprises beyond the worsening economic crisis. No game-changing ads. No candidate slip-ups of any magnitude. And so this election looks pretty straightforward — moderate voters have switched to the Democratic column, and change is the order of the day.

Presuming Barack Obama is elected, we will face a transition period unlike any since Herbert Hoover turned over the reins of the federal government to Franklin D. Roosevelt in March 1933. The country has been waiting for the end of the Bush administration for years, and the temptation will be to get the new government going without delay.

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Politico: Young moderates – A fragile coalition

Politico

By MARK PENN
Published October 28, 2008

This election promises to offer a fundamental realignment that could stand for decades to come as young moderate voters become the driving force for change in the presidential race. These more socially tolerant, opportunity-oriented voters are the ones likely to put Barack Obama in the White House next week.

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Politico: What’s ‘in’ is now ‘out’

Politico

By MARK PENN
Published October 14, 2008

As Monty Python used to say, “No one expects the Spanish Inquisition” — which is another way of saying that no one expects the unexpected. And recent unanticipated political and financial events are a good reminder that everything could change in one fell swoop.

In a sense, the worsening financial crisis should come as no surprise — hedge fund managers I’ve met with over the past year and a half predicted almost perfectly what would happen. And Hillary Rodham Clinton was the first presidential candidate to warn repeatedly of financial danger while the president, Treasury secretary and Federal Reserve chairman all downplayed it.

Now the voters have shifted in Barack Obama’s direction, largely because he seems better able than John McCain to tackle these types of complex problems but also because the last Democratic president, Bill Clinton, performed so well during times of economic concern. In such situations, voters now instinctively reach for a Democrat rather than a Republican. And it has shaken up the presidential race.

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Politico: Bailout vote is proof: The center holds

Politico

By MARK PENN
Published October 7, 2008

My polling over the years has found that about two-thirds of Democrats define themselves as moderate, while two-thirds of Republicans see themselves as conservative. That polling trend was mirrored in the initial unsuccessful Sept. 29 House vote on the financial bailout proposal: Democrats were divided, with 60 percent of members in favor, while Republicans opposed the measure 2-to-1.

The 228-205 defeat saw the left and right team up against the center, revealing the fundamental unfulfilled divide in American politics today. Centrists viewed it as common sense to shore up the credit markets to stabilize America’s economic condition, which the president and others saw as on the verge of collapse. Yet to the right, it was an unacceptable intrusion by the federal government into the marketplace. And to the left, it was an unacceptable bailout of the rich on Wall Street. Together, they were successful in holding back the winds of change, if only temporarily, as a modified version of the bailout proposal was enacted four days later.

The two-party system works against moderates in Congress: Each side is a fusion of moderate and either left or right elements. So even though voters have repeatedly rejected politics too far to the right or left, the vital center often gets lost in the debate.

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Politico: Obama has advantage on economy

Politico

By MARK PENN
Published September 29, 2008

The financial crisis has redefined the presidential race, bringing into stark relief the candidate who can deal with the complexities of the global markets and return the country to prosperity over the next four years.

The race is no longer about change, experience, Iraq, tax cuts or universal health care. The job posting has been fundamentally altered.

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Politico: Candidates must come out swinging

Politico

By MARK PENN
Published September 24, 2008

The two prep teams for the presidential debates are moving into high gear, readying their candidates for the ring, knowing the stakes are probably the highest since the Kennedy-Nixon face-offs played a decisive role in the 1960 election.

The winner of Friday’s presidential debate could be the candidate who beats expectations and thereby causes another jump ball in this volatile election.

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Politico: So goes the nation: New electoral map

Politico

By MARK PENN
Published September 17, 2008

The outcome of the 2008 election will, like the last two presidential campaigns, come down to a small number of voters in a few places. Yet those votes will be affected by big, overarching events such as the emergence of Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, the economic crisis and the upcoming presidential debates.

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Politico: Penn on who won at conventions

Politico

By MARK PENN
Published September 9, 2008

Here’s my post-convention take on the most important questions likely to decide the general election.

Who won the conventions? No one — or everyone — won. The post-convention polls suggest that the party gatherings did not fundamentally change the race — this is going to go right down to the wire, and debates will be key. Nearly 55 million people voted in the primaries, and nearly 40 million watched the key speeches at both conventions. Voters are interested, listening and undecided.

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Politico: DNC sets high bar for RNC to reach

Politico

By MARK PENN
Published September 1, 2008

As the Republicans get their turn this week at the GOP convention in St. Paul, Minn., they start out with a difficult — though not impossible — mountain to climb. Democratic nominee Barack Obama is getting his convention bump for his party confab in Denver last week. If the Republican convention this week fails, the rest of the campaign probably won’t matter much.

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Politico: Clintonism lives

Politico

By MARK PENN
Published August 25, 2008

For eight years, President Bill Clinton prepared America for the 21st century, restoring optimism and activism to the presidency, redefining America’s role in the world, funneling more money to the poor and underserved while balancing the budget and creating the foundation for the one of the greatest economic expansions since the Industrial Age.

And yet as Barack Obama formally accepts the Democratic nomination, having defeated Hillary Rodham Clinton, people regularly ask whether is Clintonism dead.

No, not by a long shot.

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Politico: Mapping a path to the White House

Politico

By MARK PENN
Published August 19, 2008

During the Super Bowl, the seventh game of the World Series and the “American Idol” finale, Americans can be counted on to sit in front of their television sets. The same is true of the quadrennial political conventions. America is a country that tunes in for a good contest.

This year, the party that wins the battle of the conventions will likely win the election. In the past 60 years, few presidential candidates have overcome negative poll numbers taken after the conventions. While races have gotten closer and debates have had an effect, nothing in the months between convention and election has swayed the voters’ preferences.

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Politico: Negative ads: They really do work

Politico

By MARK PENN
Published August 11, 2008

Clever negative advertising works. That is reality.

The tactic meets with media and pundit disapproval and spawns accusations of negativity, but the reality is that a clever negative ad can be devastatingly effective.

The 2008 presidential race is shaping up to be a close battle, and the tighter it is, the more the advertising will be ratcheted up, by both of the campaigns and the myriad independent groups sure to emerge.

Of course, voters publicly condemn negative advertising and suggest they would never be swayed by it. That was my experience in focus groups more than a decade ago, which found negative advertising to backfire. But Republican consultants such as the late Lee Atwater have used these tactics successfully in campaign after campaign. When reality and research differ, it is the research that is wrong.

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Politico: In WH race, strong is often wrong

Politico

By MARK PENN
Published August 4, 2008

In many recent presidential elections, Americans have had a choice: pick the candidate they think is a stronger leader or pick the candidate they believe is right on the issues. Almost always, they have chosen the stronger leader — even though they have often come to regret that decision.

Strong and wrong or weak and right — that is the choice that Republicans have tried to present to the voters. They will try it again this year; as conditions in the economy worsen and with two wars in the background, Americans are again looking for a tough leader for tough times.

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Politico: ‘Active grannies’ the new soccer moms

Politico

By MARK PENN
Published July 29, 2008

Despite all the talk about this election being driven by the youth vote, America as a nation has never been older and the power of the senior vote has never been greater.

In the relentless quest to find the soccer moms of this election, perhaps the answer will be found in the “active granny” vote — empty-nesters who have found a new freedom in their lives after the kids have left and who look at the world very differently than do their kids graduating college. The seniors of today may not be the so-called Greatest Generation, but they sure are the biggest generation — and their voting power has been compounded by the dramatic expansion in average life expectancy that’s occurred since they were born.

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