Mark Penn: I think I never underestimated it, that once you had that kind of candidate, that that kind of candidate could be real trouble. And that if that candidate… You know, if Obama won Iowa, it would really change, dramatically change, the situation going forward. And consequently, I really wanted to question Obama as early as possible.
You wanted to hit him harder? Well, I wanted to question the basic underpinning of his campaign… His problems in his campaign were (1) that he didn't have the usual experience of somebody running for president, and (2) that the positions he took on Iraq—you know, that were revered by the press—didn't really hold up when you look through his record in the Senate.
Why didn't you? Well, I started down that road.… President Clinton took on the Iraq back-and-forth. But the rest of the campaign didn't want to tackle Iraq. They always felt that that was a losing proposition for her, and they always pulled it back.
How much of the reluctance to go after him at the beginning was because he's a black candidate? [clears throat] You know, I can't answer that.
But there had to have been some concern about attacking the first black man who was a serious candidate for the presidency. Well, but the word attack is a harsh word. If you point out somebody's voting records, his attendance records, you know, if you point out how they differ with you on an answer of meeting with dictators, you know, that was a prime concern of a lot of people. It appeared to be the prime concern of a lot of people in the news media. Because the normal stories that would have been written about someone just never appeared. The truth of the matter was, there seemed to be an unlimited market for anything on Hillary and very little market for writing a story on Barack Obama and say, for example, his attendance in the Senate. There has still been no story written about something like that—as basic as something like that.
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The liberal bloggers say you don't have principles, you're this mercenary, you're a triangulating phony. Why do they hate you so much? Well, first of all, they don't know me. Probably a mistake in the campaign was not to get to know people like that early on.
But when they say you're a mercenary— I say, "Look, I'm a consultant. And consultants are obviously gonna be paid for their services." But unlike the other consultants now, I don't own the company anymore. I'm an employee. The other consultants are not employees.
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Is it possible that in some ways, that no matter what happened or what you did or didn't do, this was a phenomenon, Obama was a phenomenon, and there was nothing that could have been done to stop him? No, I don't think that's true. When a race is this close at the end, you could have done something.