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In the Clinton-Obama Race, Its the Pollster vs. the Ad Man

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JimGinPA Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Mar-15-08 06:55 PM
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DEMOCRATS tend to make celebrities of their campaign consultants, which is why anyone who has closely followed this presidential campaign could probably pick out Mark Penn or David Axelrod, the chief strategists for Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, in a bar. To refer generically to these strategists as consultants, however, as if they were necessarily experts in the same craft, is to obscure important differences in how they got to where they are.

This long and remarkable struggle between Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama has been a study not just in the brilliance and the blind spots of the candidates themselves, but also those of their most trusted and highly paid advisers.

Mr. Axelrod is an advertising guy. A man who perfected the craft of encapsulating an entire life in 30 seconds, he has a gift for telling personal stories in ways that people can understand. Axelrods essential insight the idea that has made him successful where others might have failed is that the modern campaign really isnt about the policy arcana or the candidates record; its about a more visceral, more personal narrative.

This is probably a big reason why Mr. Obama has, from the start, focused almost exclusively on broad themes of hope and change. His campaign reflects all the attributes of a political ad: the stirring words, the beautiful pictures, the simple and elegant story line of a ruined political system and the man whose moment has arrived.

Mr. Obama demonstrated the constancy of this approach on the night of his losses in Ohio and Texas. Mrs. Clinton had spent the previous week mercilessly deriding Mr. Obama as a guy who gives nice, vague speeches but who isnt versed in the finer points of governing. The attacks seemed to have taken their toll.

But when Mr. Obama took the stage in San Antonio, he seemed bent on reiterating her point or at least he didnt attempt to refute it. Rather than seek to reassure viewers about his gravitas, Mr. Obama stubbornly dove right back into his familiar narrative of inspiring a movement.

Such is the unwavering, almost defiant faith that Mr. Axelrod and his candidate have in the transformative power of their story.

Mr. Penn, on the other hand, is a pollster, and pollsters tend to look at campaigns as a series of dissectible data points that either attract voters or drive them away. Get a health care plan and an economic plan that 70 percent of people say they view favorably. Pay attention to words that move the dial in focus groups, like real solutions for America or ready to lead on Day 1.

Mrs. Clintons relentless focus on pragmatism and specificity, as well as her willingness to shift slogans, are not simply a result of her own personality but also of Mr. Penns strategic outlook, which values testable ideas and phrases over more sweeping imagery and themes.

Mr. Penns influence was on display last weekend when both Mrs. Clinton and her husband suddenly started talking about the potential of her choosing Mr. Obama as a running mate, even though she has consistently disparaged him as too inexperienced to occupy the Oval Office. It seems likely that Mr. Penn polled this question in the wake of Ohio and Texas and found that it had appeal. Thus the campaign abruptly began hammering at a new message, and one that undermined its core point about Mr. Obama, in order to peel off some critical segment of voters reflected in the latest data.

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JimGinPA Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Mar-15-08 07:24 PM
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1. I Thought The Explanation Of HRC's Multitude Of Slogans Was Interesting...
But this dropped like a dirty sock. I guess I should have thrown a pastor (who realy doesn't have anything to do with the issues of the campaign) in for shits and grins.
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