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. Moses

    I must say his opinion is correct. As a strong minded democrat, you cannot escape the reality that the Mccain ad is really speaking to the Democratic fear "are we banking on a man that exists because of his love from the media"

    Are we backing a man the is again speaking on what will be broken hopes and dreams? Obama is quite obviously the best choice we now have, and that comes through his uncertainty factor. If American's clearly knew what he stood for this would create obvious factions.

    I truthfully felt effected by the ad. My opinion is not swayed. In the primaries, I must say Obama's celebrity driven ad's were on the tackier side, and had undertones of celebrity driven propoganda.

    I will vote for Obama because he is the best choice to date.

    August 12, 2008 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  2. Bama for Obama

    It’s time we ask the question; is all the bitterness from Hillary’s supporters about Obama’s political stance or his color.

    August 12, 2008 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  3. Shut Up CNN

    Why do you put this fat pig's comments? You want Lanny Davis's commetns too?. There are more credible people ton the earth to comment on a few subjects. Are you encouraging division?
    Don't do National Enquirer journalism.Atleast they are doing a better job.

    August 12, 2008 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  4. Neal

    This Clinton political machine is an evil monster.
    They, together with McCain, are emblems for what is wrong with US politics.

    August 12, 2008 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  5. My Friends, let me tell you

    Its true, people hear only what they want to hear.You can now thank the MSM for the choice you have,happy voting Americans.

    August 12, 2008 11:13 am at 11:13 am |
  6. Gina, Toronto

    Can we say...sore loser?

    August 12, 2008 11:13 am at 11:13 am |
  7. RAY

    This Penn jerk need to be locked up....He is a piece of crap.

    August 12, 2008 11:13 am at 11:13 am |
  8. Liz from Atlanta, GA

    I can't figure out what his angle is??? Why is he still talking?

    Obama '08

    August 12, 2008 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  9. Tom

    And so the fabricated fantasy of a united Democratic Party collapes like the house of cards it always's not news to me.

    Looking forward to seeing the blood spill all over the convention floor.

    Don't forget to bring your hip-waders!

    August 12, 2008 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  10. Cynthia

    What is Penn & others trying to do – give McCain a supposed blueprint on how to beat Senator Obama in order for Hilliary to win next election? They must realize that if this happens – there will be a campaign of Anybody but Hilliary and she will not win in 2012.

    August 12, 2008 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  11. Rose

    Anything that grabs attention and gets people talking is effective. I find it interesting that candidates and their handlers often seem to second guess or disagree on when to and how to respond to the opponent's ad. Nobama missed the beat on the McCain ad.

    August 12, 2008 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  12. Bill

    This guy is an idiot. He ran a horrible campaign for HRC and is the primary reason she did not win. Why in the world the media even listens to him anymore is beyond me. How is his opinion important.

    August 12, 2008 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  13. Clinton/McCain

    The ad was fair and was very effective, in my opinion. Obama needs to realize he's not competing on American Idol. He's running for the toughest job in the world. His reactions to criticism and his behavior clearly indicate to me that he can't handle the job.

    August 12, 2008 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  14. Maria

    Why is there so much anti-McCain writing posted on your comments page? I have a feeling you are not posting anything but pro-Obama comments. These readers are terribly mis-informed about McCain. If it's one thing I know – he is a good and caring man and a great American. Further, Penn should be allowed to speak the truth without people putting him down. He is merely telling the truth.

    August 12, 2008 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  15. DJ in TX

    This just goes to show you what really happened to the Clinton campaign. It had nothing to do with the media or sexism. Granted there may have been some sexism, but not to the point that it cost Senator Clinton the nomination.

    I've said before this was "hers" to lose. Her campaign let her down as evidenced by these reports from Mark Penn.

    Senator Clinton didn't help either falling into the trap of inevitability. By the time she started to really campaign, it was all but too late.

    I hope her ardent supporters now realize that it was her own campaign that caused her to lose, nothing else. Both candidates received about 18 million votes, Senator Obama won more delegates and more super delegates (unfortunately it had to come to that). He's the nominee.

    BTW – those that are complaining that it was faulty process need to remember that it was the same process that nominated President Clinton, Al Gore, and John Kerry. I don't remember anyone calling the caucuses "illegal" then.

    August 12, 2008 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  16. Steven

    Someone needs to sew Mark Penn lips shut. I never scene such childish behavior like Clinton supporters.

    August 12, 2008 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  17. Phil in KC

    "Fair or not, as advertising it did its job..."

    So, in other words, it doesn't matter if it is accurate or if it is a fair ad, the only thing that matters is getting results.
    Again – one reason I'm backing Obama. He's not pure as the driven snow; I have no illusions about that. But he seems to be more above-board than others. I really expected better of McCain. I'd hoped to see a good clean campaign. I guess that one's out the window now with people like Penn and the Rove proteges running the campaigns.

    August 12, 2008 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  18. Jamaal

    Those negative ads got Hillary CLinton where she is Now at Home watching the Campaign instead of Being in the Campaign Penn is a Nasty Person and that is why not a dime of my Money will go to Clinton No matter what My man Obama has to say I will send him money everytime he emails me Except on the behalf of Hillary because she still owes this scum 5.3 million dollars.

    August 12, 2008 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  19. j williamson

    Republicans have mastered the art of fear and smear – in fact, they invented it. That being said, it's time for Democrats to stop being gracious wimps – and big election losers besides. Barack waited too long to hit back at McCain's silly ad – just as John Kerry did after the Swift-Boat attack ads in 2004. Wake up (!) hit them back, good and hard. "Marry" John McCain and George Bush – NOW!

    August 12, 2008 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  20. Mark Pam

    Who cares about this guy? And why is the media making such a big deal out of the "secret" memos and playing down other stories such as how obama flip flopped on full votes to michigan and florida which would have in march given this nomination to clinton? why?

    With this secret memos, ideas were presented, clinton shot it down. isn't that a good thing? what this shows is that there are some definite weaknesses that anyone could exploited about obama but Clinton chose NOT to. I am sure obama's team also has a lot of dirt that they decided not to use. why don't we expose their memos... geesh let's just move on.

    August 12, 2008 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  21. LaShanda

    Everyone in America has foreign roots. Hillary should denounce this racist, anti-American clown IMMEDIATELY!

    August 12, 2008 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  22. lp

    Didn't all those candidates mentioned as having a "successful" negative ad lose???

    August 12, 2008 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  23. Marc, Canada

    The only memory the Paris Hilton ad gave me was that of Obama inspiring millions of people. Thank you John McCain.

    August 12, 2008 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  24. AJ

    This guy is not finished with his sour grapes yet! He should be ousted from the democratic party. A guy who made millions doing nothing and pulling down his candidate (Hillary) doesn't have any credibility.

    August 12, 2008 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  25. Marilyn, Powell Ohio

    Mark Penn and Dick Morris – now that's a real TEAM!

    August 12, 2008 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
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