Clinton Pollster Likes What He Sees

By Anne E. Kornblut
Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) may be leading in the money chase, but Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's pollster sent out a memo assessing her standing yesterday and -- guess what -- Mark J. Penn thinks she is doing spectacularly.

"Hillary's electoral strength has grown in the last quarter and she is better positioned today than ever before to become the next President of the United Sates," Penn wrote. (Yes, he did write "Sates," though it appears he meant "States.")

A new Gallup-USA Today poll suggests Penn's optimism has merit: It shows Clinton (N.Y.) ahead of her closest Democratic competitor, Obama, by 16 points, with non-candidate/former vice president Al Gore in third place, similar to the advantage she has enjoyed in Washington Post-ABC polls since February.

Penn freely cherry-picks from public data in making his case -- quoting, for example, a Newsweek poll about Clinton's popularity (it found she has a 57 percent favorability rating among adults, higher than in other polls) without mentioning the same poll's finding that 34 percent of voters said they would not vote for her, compared with 24 percent who said the same of Obama.

For more than a year now, Penn has been out front in making the case for Clinton's electability. In an opinion piece he co-wrote with Democratic strategist James Carville in The Washington Post on July 2 of last year (months before Clinton made her candidacy official), Penn argued that "if she runs, she can win." Back then, he was trying to shout down growing murmurs among Democrats that Clinton was too polarizing to win a general election. He admitted that her negative ratings at the time were high -- at 42 percent, he said -- but contended that any Democratic nominee would reach the same point.

Penn is still making that same claim -- with a sometimes selective reading of the numbers. He cites the same Newsweek poll to demonstrate that Clinton would beat a leading Republican contender, former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani (Clinton led him in a direct matchup, 51 to 44 percent, similar to Obama's lead over Giuliani.) But Penn leaves out the fact that, in the same poll, Clinton had a five-point advantage over Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) -- while Obama had a 10-point lead.

Edwards Puts Focus on Poverty

John Edwards is battling back the "three H's" that have dogged his campaign -- expensive haircuts, a lavish new house and a stint working for a hedge fund.

Now, he is trying to put emphasis on a "P" -- his new poverty tour across the South and the Midwest.

Beginning next Sunday night with a stop in New Orleans's Ninth Ward, Edwards, the former senator from North Carolina, will "take a break from his normal campaign schedule of events and take the campaign on the road for three days, through eight states and 12 towns and cities, in order to bring attention to the 37 million Americans living in poverty," according to an official campaign statement. His campaign manager, former congressman David E. Bonior, held a conference call yesterday morning to sketch out the details of the trip, which the campaign steadfastly insists is not aimed at improving his political standing but instead designed solely to bring the issue of poverty front and center in the presidential race.

"We want to force the issue into the debate," Bonior said. Asked by a reporter to identify the targets of the message, Bonior said, "It's aimed, quite honestly, at you."

Obama, Clinton Take Fight Back to Iowa

After dueling entourages in Iowa over the Fourth of July holiday, both Obama and Clinton are returning today, possibly with competing messages on Iraq. Clinton is delivering a speech about her overall Iraq policy in Des Moines; Obama, a short distance away, is holding a town meeting on the economy but is also expected to talk about the war. Each denied trying to step on the other's message.

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