Ari Berman (The Nation):
Howie P.S.: My favorite line: "Penn recently told the Washington Post, in a largely flattering profile, that he’d been “cleared of all client responsibilities, except for Microsoft, for the duration of the campaign.” Howie P.P.S.: I got an email from Seattle writer Ari Melber, correcting me for attributing this to him, rather than another writer in The Nation, Ari Berman. My profound apologies.
As Hillary Clinton charges toward the Democratic nomination for President, her campaign has a coterie of influential advisers. There's her husband, of course, widely regarded as one of the sharpest political strategists in the business. There's über-Washington insider and former head of the Democratic National Committee Terry McAuliffe. There are A-list policy wonks like former Treasury Secretary Bob Rubin. But perhaps the most important figure in the campaign is her pollster and chief strategist, Mark Penn, a combative workaholic. Penn is not yet a household name, but perhaps he should be. Inside Hillaryland, he has elaborately managed the centrist image Hillary has cultivated in the Senate. The campaign is polling constantly, and Penn's interpretation of the numbers will in large part decide her political direction.
Yet despite occupying such a divisive place in the Democratic Party and outsized role in the corporate world--and despite his company's close ties to Republican political operatives and the Bush White House--Penn remains a leading figure in Hillary's campaign, pitching the inevitability of her nomination to donors and party bigwigs. According to the New York Times, "[Hillary] Clinton responds to Penn's points with exclamations like, Oh, Mark, what a smart thing to say!" Politically, his presence means that triangulation is alive and well inside the campaign and that despite her populist forays, Hillary won't stray too far from the center. "Penn has a lot of influence on her, no doubt about it," says New York political consultant Hank Sheinkopf, who worked with Penn in '96. "He's not going to let her drift too far left."