Mark Penn is a self-described numbers junkie who started out as a shy boy from the Bronx, N.Y. Penn's shyness has actually become an asset -- he wanted to discover what people were thinking without having to ask them.
Penn conducted his first poll at age 13. It was a poll about race relations in America, and the moment he sent it out, he said he realized, "Wow, I can find out what different people thought by sending out flyers and analyzing them, and being a different detective. … I always found it fascinating from this very first poll."
He now polls on everything from the Iraq War to what television shows people watch (Republicans like "24," he said. And for the last 10 years he has been the man that Bill and Hillary Clinton have enlisted to help them figure out what voters think.
Penn crafts the questions, interprets the answers and currently serves as Mrs. Clinton's most influential adviser, her senior strategist.
Despite his influence, Penn said he's no Karl Rove. Penn said that he is "Hillary Clinton's Mark Penn, I'm no Karl Rove, and I'm doing my work in this campaign, and I hope it turns out tremendously well."
Penn said he sees Rove "as a brand." "What he's done really stands for a philosophy, I think, dividing the country," he said. "I've always been about bringing the country together, looking for swing voters."
When President Bush's Karl Rove announced his resignation last month, he took to the airwaves to question Sen. Clinton's electability in a general election. In response, Clinton said "it's interesting that he is so obsessed with me. And I think the reason is we know how to win."
Penn is credited with helping both Clintons win and has been a key figure in the senator's political ascent. Penn zeroed in on small, local issues in New York to help the former first lady overcome her negatives in a state where she had no roots. He is famous for discovering the "soccer mom," the key swing vote that helped President Clinton get re-elected in 1996. Penn was the first person Bill Clinton embraced at the Democratic convention that year.
So if the soccer mom was the key in 1996 for Bill Clinton, what will it be key for his wife? Penn said he doesn't know who the key swing voters will be just yet. "This election is different because with Sen. Clinton, I think there's going to be a huge outpouring of women for the senator," he said.
There is no doubt in Penn's mind, at this early date, that his candidate will be the Democratic nominee. "I believe she's going to be the nominee. I think every day is a good one, and I think that as every day goes on people see that she has the strength and experience to become president," he said.
Penn welcomed "Nightline" into a strategy meeting last week. The question on the table was a sensitive one: How would Sen. Clinton fare as a national candidate against various Republican opponents?
Sitting with his polling team, which included Amy Leviton, Andrew Claster and Josh Werman, Penn looked over the latest maps, and in counting up the blue states saw Clinton now ahead now 337 electoral votes. Once again, the key seems to be zeroing in on women voters.
Reviewing the latest analysis from his team, Penn's read was that "if 10 percent more women came, that would really give her almost all the major talked about swing states."