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. Craig

    The fat on Penn's frame has infiltrated his brain.

    August 12, 2008 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  2. lp

    Now I know why Hillary lost! What an idiot.

    August 12, 2008 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  3. Tim

    Mark Penn's op-ed says more about him than either candidate. He is a scumbag who has now publicly admitted that it didn't matter whether the 3 A.M. ad was fair or not and has been exposed in his private consultation work as a racist.

    August 12, 2008 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  4. Joan, Ontario

    With his track record, not too many politicians should be rushing to take this man's advice. The dream ticket would probably have been a strong probability if advisors and supporters like this man had not mismanaged and tarnished the Clinton campaign. Senator Clinton might have been better served taking more of a leadership role in her own campaign and now needs to distance herself from these people. With friends like these, who needs enemies.

    August 12, 2008 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  5. Jeff

    He should have been given more power under Hillary's campaign, then she would have won.

    August 12, 2008 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  6. Paula

    Keep on talking about the issues Obama! Thinking voters will acknowledge that this is the mark of a true leader. (check out JFK's Speeches).
    I hope women who are still hurting over the loss of Hillary will take another look at Obama's voting record re womens issues against McCains. NO CONTEST! OBAMA 08

    August 12, 2008 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  7. Dan, Ohio

    I'm fairly sure that Mark Penn has no room to talk about what any candidate should or should not have done, considering his abysmal failure as a strategist for Hilary Clinton.

    August 12, 2008 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  8. Dave

    Like him or not, Penn makes a good observation. the ad hit at Obama's strengh: the fact that people act like he's some kind of celebrity when in fact he is all fluff and not much substance. McCain is not much better but it looks as if things on the world stage are playing out to his advantage. Conincidence? don't think so. Main stream media is not potrying the Geogia-Russia conflict correctly. The US-Israel backed Georgia has been put up to this proxy war. Does anyone realize how much arms has been supplied to them by th US and Israel? Does anyone know how many US and Israeli military advisors are currntly there? Does anyone realize there are mercenaries (Blackwater) fighting for Georgia? You won't because MSM doesn't tell us.

    August 12, 2008 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  9. The World

    I love that that is the only picture you have of this idiot!

    August 12, 2008 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  10. MCD, SF, CA

    Obama didn't need to answer the ad.... Paris did an excellent job of making McCain look like a fool... she also did an excellent job of pointing out his age and arguing the fact that he just may be irrelevant. The man constantly mis-speaks, mixes up countries and has a hard time finding words to express himself.

    Now we have this bozo Penn spouting off... they are both long past the "sell by" date and totally out of touch.

    August 12, 2008 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  11. FL4Obama

    Hillary should have fired Mark Penn a long time ago. He has now partnered with Karen Hughes from the Bush administration. Enough said.

    Obama's background represents many aspects of American diversity. His candidacy offers an opportunity to transcend some past divisions and demonstrate how far our society has come in the 21st century. Obama '08

    August 12, 2008 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  12. BJ, Texas

    Mark Penn just telling it like it is. Good job! Mike from Tx, you hit the nail in the head. Obama is Omarosa in disguise. A BIG drama queen. He is Obamarosa!

    August 12, 2008 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  13. Steve - Atlanta, GA

    That's right McCain campaign....start taking your advice from this guy. You can see where it got Hillary.

    It's time for a shake up in Washington! Electing Obama will send the message the "business as usual" in our government will no longer work. The American people are tired of how our country has been run over the past 30 years.

    August 12, 2008 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  14. Disgruntled voter

    I love how people are saying the Penn is simply a "Republican in disguise." Is it possible that the Democrats themselves are simply no better than Republicans?
    Oh the arrogance of those Democrats to paint every single person who they disagree with as a Republican.
    As a Republican (most of the time) I laugh at their completely inept way of dealing with controversy.
    Obama is a sham. He is simply a convenient person for specific interests to place on the ticket with a promise of "CHANGE" that will go nowhere. What exact sort of "change" is Obama going to bring? I'd certainly like to know because this man is like a popover. Sure looks good on the outside with all his talk but on the inside he is full of nothing but air. ZERO substance

    August 12, 2008 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  15. S. Shay

    Why would anyone report what Mark Penn says when he nearly single-handedly sunk HRC’s campaign? He has NO credibility. Pundits of all political persuasions have stated the ad was stupid, the low road, using false analogies, covertly racist, beneath John McCain, unfitting of a would be CIC and totally useless. Likewise, the polls are showing that Obama’s lead is growing and/or remaining steady so the American people reject the implications of the ad which is that 18+ million people in American plus the 200K in Germany, plus the majority of our US troops are blazing idiots and John McCain who finished 4th to last in the Naval Academy is a genius. I don’t think so.

    August 12, 2008 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  16. Steve

    Penn is right. You Obamabots should read the new Newsweek piece suggesting that Paris Hilton should run for president. The Republicans are simply pointing out the obvious, that is, both Paris Hilton and Obama are products of a celebrity crazed media culture. Both are equally clueless and equally without talent. Voting for Obama is no different than voting for Paris Hilton or Brittney Spears.

    August 12, 2008 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  17. Farrell, Houston, Tx


    August 12, 2008 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  18. Clinton/McCain

    James in Ohio,

    Obama is clearly lacking substance. I'm no fan of McCain, but I certainly don't want a repeat of Bush. McCain is qualifed and certainly is no Bush. Repubicans think McCain is too liberal! Obama is arrogant like Bush and on the stump he even sounds like Bush (gaffe after gaffe). Didn't we learn from the last 8 years of Bush that we need someone with some experience? Many of us are just shocked that people would even consider Obama and that's why we are trying to make people like you realize it would be a big mistake to elect Obama.

    August 12, 2008 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  19. Bud

    Low Life scum has knows no particular political party. The Republican Dirt Machine is doing a number on the truly thoughtless. Penn wants to be part of something - ANYTHING!

    August 12, 2008 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  20. ObamaFatigued

    At least Andrew (August 12th, 2008 10:47 am ET) is one honest democrat amongst many sheep on this message board.

    Baaaa baaaa – vote for Barack – baaaa baaaa – I use ridiculous, meaningless names like McBush, McLame – baaaa baaaa – "vote for change", "yes we can" – baaaa baaaa.

    August 12, 2008 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  21. Barbara - 65 yr old white female in NC

    Penn needs to spend his energy trying to collect from HRC.

    It's my understanding a lot of her supporters have sent money to resolve her debt issues. He needs to get his share before the little vendors take what they earned.

    Oh well – Karl Rove seems to be/have a seriously infectious disease called hate.

    We have GOT to get this negative crap out of our political system – one way or another. Demerits for negative or mud-slinging.

    August 12, 2008 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  22. What if?

    "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"..........So who give you the right to question anyone's roots.....So we are to believe that Bush has the so call more then basic American values and roots? THIS explain a lot about your opinion of someone with what you think has values and roots, the war that had no WMD. “he has our center fundamentally thinking as far as his values“, great for him because our economy is the worst in years, gas prices are supporting their pockets with no regards to the 98% that is barely making it, millions without health care that you and the GOP have courtesy of our tax dollars, and homeowners losing their Values, THEIR HOMES…How do the rich know or can judge anyone’s value and roots when they have benefited from the many loss of the American people?

    CHANGE is a must.....not the same old good old boys....all about self and buddies.

    Obama 08

    Obama 08

    August 12, 2008 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  23. Ohio Citizen

    Ha Ha! So the 3 AM ad was effective? Then we saw how Hillary was so tired at 3 in the afternoon that she couldn't remember that she was not shot at in Bosnia. So much for effectiveness.

    McCain's ad effective? Sure, until you look closely at what McCain has done to win the nomination. He has flipped on his own co-sponsored legislation. He is as phony as a politician can be. When a politician says they would not vote on their own bill, you have to wake up and smell the coffee. This is a campaign based on being a media creation. The "Maverick" is a zero. There's no there there.

    August 12, 2008 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  24. maggiemae

    This from the man that destroyed Hillary Clinton's chance at the White House?
    McCain's Paris Hilton Bittany Spears ad was about a tasteless and and "Presidential" as Penns rumpled, food stained shirt!
    If Penn was looking for his "daisy" ad, he found it, HE then proceeded down the dirty poltical road...and LOST the election for Hillary with his dysfunstional running of her campaign!

    I would expect no less from a man of his caliber....LOBBYIST!

    August 12, 2008 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  25. Truth Be Told

    Mark Penn's still around? I thought he disappeared already after his bungling of Hillary's campaign?

    Can't he just go back under the rock he came from?

    August 12, 2008 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
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