Just as the up-and-down campaign of Sen. Hillary Clinton appears on the verge of regaining momentum, bickering and dissension among senior staff threatens to implode her quest for the Presidency.
Controversial pollster and self-styled “chief strategist” Mark Penn stands in the midst of mounting internal strife that blunts even the enthusiasm of Tuesday’s three-out-of-four wins in primaries.
Most of Clinton’s top advisors want Penn fired but the blunt-talking Penn still enjoys the ear of both Bill and Hillary Clinton and, for the moment at least, that’s all he needs.
Still, the internal warfare continues and hampers the campaign’s efforts to regoup and focus on the all-important primary in Pennsylvania in less than seven weeks.
Reports Peter Baker and Anne E. Komblut of The Washington Post:
For the bruised and bitter staff around Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Tuesday’s death-defying victories in the Democratic presidential primaries in Ohio and Texas proved sweet indeed. They savored their wins yesterday, plotted their next steps and indulged in a moment of optimism. “She won’t be stopped,” one aide crowed.
And then Clinton’s advisers turned to their other goal: denying Mark Penn credit.
With a flurry of phone calls and e-mail messages that began before polls closed, campaign officials made clear to friends, colleagues and reporters that they did not view the wins as validation for the candidate’s chief strategist. “A lot of people would still like to see him go,” a senior adviser said.
The depth of hostility toward Penn even in a time of triumph illustrates the combustible environment within the Clinton campaign, an operation where internal strife and warring camps have undercut a candidate once seemingly destined for the Democratic nomination. Clinton now faces the challenge of exploiting this moment of opportunity while at the same time deciding whether the squabbling at her Arlington headquarters has become a distraction that requires her intervention.
Many of her advisers are waging a two-front war, one against Sen. Barack Obama and the second against one another, but their most pressing challenge is figuring out why Clinton won in Ohio and Texas and trying to duplicate it. While Penn sees his strategy as a reason for the victories that have kept her candidacy alive, other advisers attribute the wins to her perseverance, favorable demographics and a new campaign manager. Clinton won “despite us, not because of us,” one said.
Sifting through the data yesterday, her divided circle offered other theories. Some credit field operatives who set up organizations in record time. Others cite strong Hispanic outreach in South Texas that held off a late Obama push. And even some Penn opponents grudgingly cite his television commercial that asked which Democrat is more prepared for a 3 a.m. crisis call at the White House.