August 12th, 2008
01:21 PM ET
6 years ago

Penn says McCain ad effective

 A Mark Penn memo reportedly said the U.S. wouldn't vote for a candidate who was not 'fundamentally' American.
A Mark Penn memo reportedly said the U.S. wouldn't vote for a candidate who was not 'fundamentally' American.

(CNN) – John McCain's recent campaign commercial linking Barack Obama to vapid celebrities was unanimously criticized in Democratic quarters, but one of the party's leading strategists says it did the job.

In an op-ed in the Politico, former top strategist Mark Penn to Sen. Hillary Clinton said negative ads are often effective in forming public opinion around a candidate, and specifically pointed to the McCain campaign's recent ad featuring Paris Hilton and Britney Spears as an example of an effective television spot.

Related: Memo could keep Clinton-Obama rift open

"Fair or not, as advertising it did its job: It used humor, stuck viewers with memorable images and created a debate, just as Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 ‘Daisy’ ad, Walter Mondale’s ‘Red Phone’ spot 20 years later and Hillary Rodham Clinton’s ‘3 a.m.’ commercial in 2008 did," Penn wrote.

Watch: McCain's "Celeb" ad paints Obama as out-of-touch celebrity

Penn, who was behind Clinton's headline-grabbing "3 a.m." ad that questioned Obama's readiness to lead during a national security crisis, also said the Illinois senator should have responded more effectively to the Hilton/Spears ad.

"The Paris Hilton ad also bore a Republican political trademark — attacking a candidate’s strengths rather than the candidate’s weaknesses," Penn wrote. The spot attempted to portray Obama’s leadership for change as something fluffy and useless. Obama did not immediately hit back on the air."

Penn, who was ousted from his formal role with the Clinton campaign last spring, faced fresh criticism earlier this week after newly-released campaign memos revealed that he advocated painting Obama as foreign.

"His roots to basic American values and culture are at best limited. I cannot imagine America electing a president during a time of war who is not at his center fundamentally American in his thinking and in his values," Penn wrote in a March 2007 memo to campaign colleagues.

soundoff (307 Responses)
  1. Brian MacDougall

    Mark Penn: the Peter Principle in action. Rather than be excoriated by the press for his disastrous strategy and conduct while driving Hillary into deep debt and political exile, instead he's lionized and allowed to bloviate on matters he's clearly not qualified to analyze.

    August 12, 2008 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  2. BABA

    If you knew something, Hillary would win the nomination. Please never ever ever say anything again!

    August 12, 2008 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  3. Teresa

    Note: Like Penn or not, the ad was very effective as it IS the question everyone is thinking if not asking. Please debate the issue and the comment, but don't rip the person apart. That's childish and you Obama supporters are vicious, if you wouldn't say it to the person's face DON"T WRITE it in a blog.

    August 12, 2008 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  4. Charles

    I have to question the fact that this is the second aide of Clinton in as many days to say something that can damage the credibility of Obama. Two things can be taken from this. Either she is unable to control her people which is what I suspected when she was running and was the main reason I was against her in the first place or she has lied and is not truly committed to getting Obama in to the white house. She can put a lid on all of this if she wants to. If another story comes out about her people running the mouth, I'll have my answer.

    August 12, 2008 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  5. Sheila

    As a political ad, I tend to agree with the effectiveness of the Paris Hilton/Britney Spears spot. Also recall the infamous "Swift Boat" ad that portrayed John Kerry as less than honorable.

    Sadly, such "attack" ads are central to American politics these days. The result of the recent Obama-Clinton campaign indicates that it isn't capability, wisdom, or experience that matters in this election.

    So, let the ads be. At least a little humor has been injected into this otherwise lackluster contest!

    August 12, 2008 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  6. Orlando

    The media is really behind Exxon John.

    LOL

    August 12, 2008 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  7. NotALemming

    It's nice to finally hear someone speak about the Obamessiah (PBUH) as he truly is - foreign and out-of-touch with regular Americans....

    August 12, 2008 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  8. Jennifer

    Comments and actions of the Clinton surrogates just make Obama look better and better. I knew I made the right choice when I voted for him, albeit in one of the smaller caucus states that Hillary herself dismissed as unimportant.

    August 12, 2008 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  9. Brendan H., San Antonio, TX

    This guy seems to have everybody's ear, eh?

    Well then, why doesn't he go ask, and report back to us on, how Senator McCain was promoted way ahead, and I mean way ahead, of more qualified flight school candidates when he graduated?

    August 12, 2008 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  10. Chris

    How can the mind be so small that we vote against someone instead of FOR someone?

    McCain has offered less detail on almost every subject and spends more time talking about Obama rather than himself?

    It is working though... my friend who agrees with Obama on a lot is now voting for McCain because he "hears to much on Obama"

    What a shame – NO WONDER the US is in the state that it's in right now!

    August 12, 2008 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  11. Nik

    Did not this guy help facilitate a losing campaign? Do his opinions and suggestions matter?

    August 12, 2008 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  12. Sharon

    Before Democrats get all crazy, everything he said was right. Research has shown and Obama poll numbers shows that negative ad works.

    If Obama and Democrats want to take the "high road" and think that we are somehow "above it all" then Obama will be another, Dukasis, Mondale, Gore and Kerry and Republicans will win and our country will suffer, just like it has over the last 8 years.

    Democrats, liberals and Obama need to get over themselves and start fighting back, hard.

    August 12, 2008 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  13. kim hussein taylor portland, oregon

    this POS needs to STOP talking. mark penn is SLIME--and unamerican, just check out his disgusting client list at burson-marstellar. basically, anyone who did something hideous goes to mark penn: saudi arablia after 9/11 (notice THEY didnt get much flack, amazing considering almost ALL of the hijackers were from SA), backwater, etc.... totally repulsive people getting help from a vile and repulsive slob!

    not to mention that HE'S WRONG--i dont knwo what world he lives in but everyone i've heard thinks mccain's celebrity ad backfired. especially since both of the twits they used are republican supporters!!! and the 3 a.m phone call ad was a JOKE!

    these people are trying to help mccain win, and i'm getting really PO'd at the clintons and their staff. they better STOP now, there is not a chance i will vote for hillary in 2012. if she, bill, and her staff dont start campaigning for obama NOW, she will NEVER EVER get elected in 2012. if they get us stuck with 4 more years or repugs, she has NO CHANCE of winning in 2012.

    August 12, 2008 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  14. VA Dem

    I love the awful picture of him too, it makes him look even worse, haha.

    August 12, 2008 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  15. Zaneta

    Can the Hillary nonsense please stop.
    She lost.
    Get over it.
    Stop crying.

    She can run again in a few years.

    McCain im sure is loving all of this...

    August 12, 2008 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  16. Jerry in Boston

    Carlo, you're way off the mark.

    David Axlerod is Karl Rove in a Democrat's clothing, not Mark Penn. Like him or loathe him, Karl Rove was one of, if not THE most effective political operatives of modern times. Mark Penn is an idiot.

    You watch, in 10 years from now, David Axlerod will be despised by the right, just as the left now hates Rove. They are cut from the same cloth.

    August 12, 2008 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  17. PUMA-Jessie

    The truth sure does hurt. Obama is a serial flip flopper, who now has been on alll sides of every issue. Mention a truth about Obama and his supporters, paid and volunteers, come out of the wood work and try to control the comment sections. Not just here, but at MSNBC as well. Instead of discussing the issue like adults, they engage in name calling and nasty remarks. Looking forward for their return to school.

    August 12, 2008 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  18. Brando

    The Democratic Party NEEDS a major! overhaul!. Forget about 2008 (Your guys's gonna fell out short, no 270 EV come Nov.) or 2012 Tthe electoral college's gonna change because of the 2010 Census). So start thinking about 2016. You got 8 yrs. You've! been! warned!.

    August 12, 2008 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  19. bill4bigjohn

    I vividly remember the last general election night and early on CNN giving the election to Kerry based on exit poll results. Uncle Ted Kennedy was referring to President Kerry and look what happened? The American people will wake up and realize Obama is just another "snake oil" salesman saying all the magic words you idiots want to hear.

    August 12, 2008 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  20. John P

    Why would I want the opinion of the strategist who's candidate lost. The McCain ad back fired big time. If anything it showed the international appeal of Obama at a time when the Republicans have made America the most hated nation on earth.

    The Paris Hilton slap hurt McCain even more.

    For those people who support McCain and call Obama and his supporters mindless.

    McCain – wrong on the Iraq war
    – flip/flopped on Bush tax cuts
    – flip/flopped on immigration reform
    – doesn't know which countries Al Qaeda is in
    – doesn't know which countries are Shi'ite & which are Sunni
    – admits he doesn't know much about the economy
    – wants to spend the next 100 years in Iraq
    – wants to bomb Iran -neocon – Christian Zionist
    – wants to reduce interest rates to 0% – inflation would go
    through the roof & the value of the $ would plummet, oil
    would cost a fortune
    – energy plan is drill. drill, drill, it would take years before this
    oil came online. His plan doesn't address energy
    conservation or alternative sources of energy

    I use to be a fan of McCain in 2000 but he has sold out

    August 12, 2008 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  21. Sad American

    CAN ANYONE TELL ME WHAT ARE AMERICAN VALUES? DOES AMERICAN VALUES MEAN THE WAY THINGS WERE IN THE 40'S 50'S 60'S AND 70'S? YOU KNOW PEOPLE KNOWING THEIR PLACES!

    JUST BECAUSE SENATOR OBAMA IS NOT WHITE DOES NOT MEAN HIS VALUES IS DIFFERENT FROM ANYOTHER AMERICAN. IF HE WAS A WHITE MAKE WITH ALL THE ATTRIBUTES DISPLAYED NO ONE WOULD QUESTION HIS VALUES. I BET MANY MORE WOULD BELIVE HE IS THE GREATES HOPE IN RECENT HISTORY.

    NO ONE WANTS TO REALY CONFRONT THE ISSUE OF RACE DRIVING MANY PEOPLE VIEWS ABOUT THE SENATOR. THERE ARE MANY WHITES WHO ARE WILL TO LOOK BEYOND THE COLOR AND THEN THERE ARE MANY ANGRY ONES WHO CANT BELIEVE DR. KING DREAM IS COMING TO LIGHT.

    THE CLINTONS ARE REALY TRYING TO DERAIL THIS CANDIDATE WHO LOOKS A LOT LIKE THE FORMER PRESIDENT'S CORE SUPPORTERS.

    August 12, 2008 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  22. Jill American

    Iis true and these ads (unfortunately) work! It is the reason many people, including me, questioned Obama's electability from the very beginning. The Republican's are going to go at him from every angle they can think of. Ignoring it will not get Obama elected.

    Shari, NY said it best in the another post: "One camp relies on the nation’s ignorance and the other camp relies on one’s intelligence. It will be a tight race."

    August 12, 2008 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  23. mike

    a democratic Karl Rove, is this country blessed or what??

    August 12, 2008 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  24. Dale, Kentucky

    The only good the ad did was to further convince America, that McCain has nothing to offer but insults to the other guy.
    i would like to hear one thing from McCain, that is good about himself and does not attack Obama.
    Sen. Obama, has run a clean campaign, and I believe America is seeing that for the first time in recent politics.
    We are so tired of the same old stuff that dominates every other politician running for office.
    Obama does offer change, and the campaign is proof of that change.

    August 12, 2008 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  25. Bushwhacked in Eugene, OR

    This guy's a real winner, isn't he!! Filled with hate and apparently knows nothing but dirty tactics. It's not attractive.

    Real question is, who cares what he says anymore? He was fired by HRC. Why is he given any credence, other than just trying to stir up more hate and divisiveness in the Democratic party.

    Could he be paid by the Republicans under the table?

    August 12, 2008 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
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