August 12th, 2008
01:21 PM ET
10 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. Natasha

    Are you serious to use a statement from a man who railroad Hillary Clinton's camp? Mark Penn should help payoff Hillary debt. If McCain has to use negative ads to gain voters then we don't want those votes anyway. That shows the type of people he has around him. My friend, that's not a good thing. Stop being stupid!

    Fear is not a factor for us this year.

    Can we hear something on McCain plans for the economy. Oh wait, you really don't know anything about the economy huh?


    August 12, 2008 10:33 am at 10:33 am |
  2. Mike, Syracuse, NY

    Obama's response to the Russian invasion of Georgia shows he's not ready to lead. He called for a UN resolution. Oooh, I'll bet the Russians were shaking in their boots at that. The world loves Obama because they know he'll be someone they can roll over.

    August 12, 2008 10:33 am at 10:33 am |
  3. Kevin

    Effective, maybe.

    Good for the country, no.

    I want more optimism, and less warmongering.

    Obama '08

    August 12, 2008 10:33 am at 10:33 am |
  4. PGB


    August 12, 2008 10:33 am at 10:33 am |
  5. Another grumpy old white woman for Obama

    Why are we not surprised? It was obvious from the get go.

    Obama/Biden '08

    August 12, 2008 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  6. Concerned Citizen of America 08

    By now, most have decided which candidate they are voting for in Nov. I doubt this ad will be as effective as McCain or Penn has hoped.

    August 12, 2008 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  7. Abby

    Mr. Penn, you lost a campaign for a front runner and your opinion, at best, is that of the losing side.

    August 12, 2008 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  8. AdamW

    The people who are effected by these ads are fools.
    Who cares if the president is a celebrated figure. That's what a presodent is isn't it? Oh horrible it would be to have a president that is adored and admired around the world rather than feared and loathed. That could ruin America's tough guy John Wayne image and we would get no respect if no one feared or hated our president.

    Wake up America. Obama inspires. That is a good thing.

    August 12, 2008 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
  9. Tony

    Another Republican in Democrat's clothing. What a loser.

    August 12, 2008 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  10. McCain:SmallWeakCowardlyMan OffersMoreOfTheSame TearsOthersDownToBuildHimselfUp

    Says the strategist from the worst run campaign that ended up over 20 million in debt.

    Anyone who believes ads like this should require an IQ test before casting their vote.

    Penn, go get yourself a $400 haircut and attitude adjustment, will ya?

    August 12, 2008 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  11. Will in Richmond, VA

    For me, the most interesting part of this article was the Idea of attacking a candidates strengths rather than weaknesses. Interesting and effective strategy to say the least.

    Republicans are the best, aren't they?

    August 12, 2008 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  12. D'Berry

    shut up

    August 12, 2008 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  13. Crush Rush

    A sloth at best.

    August 12, 2008 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  14. The Bush Twins : George and John

    I'm sure McBushes Paris Hilton ad will be accepted by people that don't have the brains to think for themselves. Then there are those that are smart enough to look into the issues, and think for themselves, and come to a decision concerning the candidate they wish to support. So much for that.
    As far as the slimebag Penn goes, well just look at him. It's clear what kind of guy he is. Just can't let go of the limelight. Doesn't matter, people like him and ads from McBush mean nothing.
    Obama is gonna win hands down !

    August 12, 2008 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  15. Kyle Muncie, Indiana

    Mark Penn is a pitiful man – He campaigns failures and it appears he is campaigning for the soon-to-be-failed McCain campaign

    August 12, 2008 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  16. Louis

    Penn is an idiot.

    Too bad he was Hillary's top guy. Bad Judgement Hillary.

    August 12, 2008 10:38 am at 10:38 am |
  17. James in Ohio

    With all of this effort spent telling us why NOT to vote for Obama, you'd think we'd hear a little about why we SHOULD vote for McCain. Which candidate is truly lacking substance, I wonder...

    August 12, 2008 10:38 am at 10:38 am |

    McCain Supporters,
    He is not a maverick, but rather a flip-flopper.
    Below are only a few position McSurge has changed positions on:
    1. McCain opposed off-shore oil drilling; now he supports it
    2. McCain strongly opposes a windfall-tax on oil company profits. Three weeks earlier, he was perfectly comfortable with the idea.
    3. McCain thought Bush’s warrantless-wiretap program circumvented the law; now he believes the opposite.
    4. McCain defended “privatizing” Social Security. Now he says he’s against privatization (though he actually still supports it.)
    5. McCain wanted to change the Republican Party platform to protect abortion rights in cases of rape and incest. Now he doesn’t.
    6. McCain thought the estate tax was perfectly fair. Now he believes the opposite.
    7. McCain pledged in February 2008 that he would not, under any circumstances, raise taxes. Specifically, McCain was asked if he is a “‘read my lips’ candidate, no new taxes, no matter what?” referring to George H.W. Bush’s 1988 pledge. “No new taxes,” McCain responded. Two weeks later, McCain said, “I’m not making a ‘read my lips’ statement, in that I will not raise taxes.”
    8. In 2002 McCain said, it is OK for Bush to detain suspected enemy combatants in Guantanamo bay, without bringing any charge against them. In now (2007) he is against it, and even wants to closedown Guantanamo bay.
    9. In 2006, McCain said he was the “greatest critic” of Rumsfeld’s failed Iraq policy.
    In December 2003, McCain praised the same strategy as “a mission accomplished.” In March 2004, he said, “I’m confident we’re on the right course.” In December 2005, he said, “Overall, I think a year from now, we will have made a fair amount of progress if we stay the course.”
    10. We can’t have a time-time for Iraq, and It’s OK to stay in Iraq for 100 years;
    ……….. 4 months later McCain appear agrees to an18-month time-table for a withdrawal
    McCain is no straight-talker….so…If you support McCain…. could you tell him to rename his bus/plane….. the FLIP-FLOP EXPRESS ?
    By keeping “straight talk express” on his bus & plane, McCain is insulting the intelligence of every American. Even a dummy, can easily tell McCain is the king of Flip-Floppers
    ……..FLIP-FLOP EXPRESS …. This is a better description of McCain, isn’t it ?

    August 12, 2008 10:38 am at 10:38 am |
  19. Tony

    Penn is a vindictive, angry, bitter fool. Oh God, I just described McCain.

    August 12, 2008 10:38 am at 10:38 am |
  20. JM from SC

    This man needs to go back in whatever cage he came out of. Sen. Clinton needs to reject this kind of support because it is not needed in the Democratic Party.

    August 12, 2008 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  21. Mike

    Nice hairdo!

    August 12, 2008 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  22. ProudToBeDemocrat

    This idiot need to shut up, he is irreilvant he had his chance and he was a disaster to the Hillary compyagne who listens to this idiot, CNN please report other important things besides Mark Pen.

    August 12, 2008 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  23. LET IT GO

    Penn needs to crawl back from the hole can came out of.

    August 12, 2008 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  24. MMN-Milwaukee WI

    I have supported the DEMs since 1984 and I am not about to give it up.
    Clinton and her diehard supporters are nothing but a distraction to the DEMs and the Obama campaign and nothing more. All the, coulda, shoulda, woulda, do is open old wounds and salt them and that does NO one in this America any scrap of good. I am still waiting for more “coulda, shoulda, & woulda”s for Clinton before Aug 25th rolls around. Worst part is Hillary is not showing any sense of leadership by putting America and DEM party above herself and be very clear on the future of America. Sorry to say but Hillary is slowly but surely losing her place in history, with her entitlement crap. I’ll not blame the re-thug-licans on this, we all know for sure Hillary has been involved in whisper campaigns and as we all remember Clinton stated it very clearly: “it’s not over until we have a nominee at the convention”. All the public pronouncements about unity amount to nothing until Hillary stops her whisper campaigns. 13 days and counting if Clinton’s name is on the roll call at the convention, the DEMs can forget the WH come November and is that simple.

    August 12, 2008 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  25. Upon Further Review

    A Carl Rove wannabe.We, as a people, should worry when a lowlife like him becomes a hero.

    August 12, 2008 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
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