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Penn's Landing
04-08-2008
Political observers are continuing their preoccupation with the employment saga of former Clinton chief strategist Mark Penn. The Clinton campaign has reason to be concerned that what should have been a one-day story about Penn’s firing over a conflict of interest on the Columbian free trade deal, has turned into a multi-day media headache for its communications team. My sense is that the controversy is being driven by some genuine ambiguity over whether Penn still has an advisory role with the campaign. The fact that Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, Hillary Clinton’s chief political sponsor in the state, is calling for a clearer cutting of ties with Penn underscores the level of confusion.
 
As you might expect, the Obama campaign is now gearing up to capitalize on the episode, and attempts by the Clinton campaign to respond by drawing parallels with Obama’s earlier Canadian NAFTA controversy won’t likely draw attention away from the story. While the latter was a case of poor judgment by an Obama adviser, the current Penn situation involves a good old-fashioned conflict of interest with several hundred thousand dollars in lobbying fees at stake for Penn’s firm. As the Clinton campaign no doubt knows, these kinds of stories can take on a life of their own and continue to dominate the news cycle, until more definitive action is taken by the candidate. Even with all of today’s Iraq testimony in Congress, the negative press on Penn will continue to hurt the Clinton campaign for as long as he is allowed to hang in there.


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