Mark Penn's Latest Memo: Annotated

To: Interested Parties

From: Mark Penn, Chief Strategist

Re: State of Play Going Into the Debate

As predicted, a Mark Penn memo. The Clinton campaign is frustrated with journalists who've started to write Clinton's obit on the basis of a shaky debate performance.

What is the most important card in this race? The leadership card.

That is the card that we see in poll after poll that analyzes why people are voting for Hillary Clinton.

A little grammar issue here, but I'm one to talk! Anyway, we're back to the strength + experience = leadership equation, with change baked into the Democratic electorate as a precondition.

And so while opponents are strategizing and re-launching their campaigns with aggressive personal attacks on Sen. Clinton, one truth remains – running for president is not a qualification for president.

What qualifies as aggressive and personal?

The voters are looking for someone who has the strength and experience to lead, and little has changed in the last few weeks outside of the massive media coverage of the attacks.

Pollwise, true, but some polls have shown a narrowing of the gap between HRC and the rest. Still, she leads everywhere and nationally by significant margins.

As Senator Clinton has said, change is just a word unless you have the strength and experience to make it happen.

So let’s look at the ratings voters give the three leading candidates on the qualities they look for in a president.

On the questions of who is best able to handle Iraq and Iran, Hillary Clinton is the runaway leader. More than half of Democratic primary voters say Hillary can best handle Iran (52%) and Iraq (50%) – more than twice the number for Barack Obama (23% on Iraq and 22% on Iran) and John Edwards (14% on Iran and 16% on Iraq) (ABC/Washington Post Oct 29-Nov 1).

Senator Clinton also has an overwhelming lead among Democrats on being knowledgeable and experienced enough to handle the presidency (76% for Clinton and 41% for Obama), having the strong leadership qualities needed to be president (72% for Clinton and 55% for Obama), being inspirational and an exciting choice for president (64% for Clinton and 56% for Obama), being a good commander in chief (63% for Clinton and 43% for Obama) and bringing real change to the direction of the country (63% for Clinton and 52% for Obama) (NBC/WSJ Nov 1-5).

How Clinton has mastered the change argument:

Finally, as the polls come in, they show that Obama 2.0 isn't working any better than the previous version. After shifting to a negative attack strategy, Obama remains stalled.

But Clinton's position in New Hampshire seems a little shakier... and Obama holds leads on certain important attributes, like "Says what he believes" and "is honest."

For example, as the candidates prepare to meet in Nevada, a new poll there has Hillary Clinton leading Barack Obama 51 percent to 23 percent with 11% for John Edwards. Clinton leads among Nevada likely caucus-goers on having the best chance of beating the Republican nominee in the general election (Clinton 63%, Obama 15%, Edwards 11%), being the strongest leader (Clinton 54%, Obama 21%, Edwards 14%), most qualified to be commander in chief (Clinton 51%, Obama 20%, Edwards 13%), most likely to bring needed change (Clinton 49%, Obama 28%, Edwards 11%), having taken clear positions on the issues (Clinton 42%, Obama 23%, Edwards 12%), saying what she believes rather than what voters want to hear (Clinton 41%, Obama 23%, Edwards 12%), most likeable (Clinton 40%, Obama 30%, Edwards 20%) and most honest (Clinton 37%, Obama 24%, Edwards 13%).

In the national polls, five polls in the last two weeks show Hillary Clinton’s lead holding steady or increasing in the Democratic primary. The latest NBC/WSJ poll gives Hillary a 22 point lead, up 1 point from September, and yesterday’s Cook Political / RT Strategies poll puts Hillary 17 points ahead – up from a 13 point advantage in September. AP/Ipsos gives Hillary a 23 point lead, up 2 points since October, USA Today/Gallup has her 28 points ahead, compared with 29 points in October and according to Newsweek, Hillary now leads by 19 points, compared with 21 points in August.

Hillary also leads Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, Fred Thompson and Mitt Romney. She leads Giuliani by 3 points in the Cook/RT Strategies poll, 6 points in the USA Today / Gallup poll, 6 points in the CNN poll, 10 points in the WNBC/Marist poll, 4 points in the Newsweek poll and 4 points in the ABC/Washington Post poll. Her advantage widens against other Republicans – to 9 points over McCain, 18 points over Romney and 16 points over Thompson in the ABC/Washington Post poll.

And the states show little change. We know it is a close race in Iowa and Hillary has a significant lead in New Hampshire.

The latest Iowa polls all show a very close race - this week's CBS/NYT poll gives Hillary Clinton a lead of only 2 points. In New Hampshire, Hillary has a double-digit lead (15 points in this week’s CBS/New York Times poll). Hillary leads by 10 points in South Carolina (Winthrop/ETV). And in yesterday’s Quinnipiac Ohio poll, Hillary’s 25 point lead is virtually unchanged from last month.

Meanwhile in the general election, Hillary leads Giuliani in Ohio, Florida, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee – all states the Democrats lost in 2004. In fact, if the election were held tomorrow, Hillary would win 360 electoral votes compared with 178 electoral votes for Rudy Giuliani. And Hillary would beat Fred Thompson, John McCain and Mitt Romney by similar margins.

But for all the negative personal attacks, this race comes down to one word – leadership

Depends on how leadership is defined.