GQ: Mark Penn On Why She Lost

Highlights from the GQ Interview with Mark Penn (cont.)

In retrospect, when you look at the Obama campaign, what were some of the other things that were really genius? I think, at the end of the day, they really did what they had to when they had to. They didn't think twice about taking her on when they had to. They did it. They just did it. And I think they were right to go after the progressive voters who were Democrats in Republican states that were ripe for a candidacy like his, and they did it very well. And I think that they sold him as a brand.… They finely targeted several constituencies in order to put together their coalition and even to turn out unexpectedly large numbers of young people. They had a great organization.

Obama ran a great campaign, then. Well, I think, look, he had tremendous help from the media…

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Do you think Obama can win the states she won in November? Sure, he can win. I don't think there's any question he can win. It's a Democratic year, he's coming out of these contests as a very strong nominee, there's a tremendous amount of almost worldwide enthusiasm for him—so he definitely can win.

But? But he's gotta show that he's got the right experience to be president. He's gotta forge a stronger connection with working-class voters. He's gotta really introduce himself to those independent voters who are really gonna decide it for the first time.

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Do you think Obama's an elitist? I think that what you've seen is that he has not, so far, connected with the working class of America in a credible way. And he's gonna have to overcome that.

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One of the damning reports about you was that you thought the California primary was winner-take-all and not allotted proportionally. In an article in Time, Harold Ickes was quoted as having called you on that: "How can it possibly be that the much vaunted chief strategist doesn't understand proportional allocation?" Is that true? It is a false story, plain and simple. And it is being used to divert people from the real question of who, how, and when was the decision made not to build political organizations or spend money in a lot of the caucus states? I can assure you that was not the message team. And she did have, on the political team, some of the world's greatest experts on the subject.

Looking at the big picture down the road, years from now, how do you think history will view this campaign? Well, they're always going to look at it and say, "Well, it was a surprise that she didn't win." And they'll look at her and say, "She was the first woman that had a real opportunity." Look, we never know what's gonna happen later on. A lot of people have come back. It's pretty unusual for somebody to win the nomination the first time out. History is really quite the opposite. The expected in politics is the unexpected... The reason that I would have gone after him early was precisely because I didn't underestimate the power of a Fresh New Candidate who also had appeal to the African-American vote and the latte voters. To put them together, into a very strong coalition supported by money and the press? Absolutely I saw all that. Absolutely… But: How do you stop something like that, right? You don't stop something like that by being "warmer" [snorts]—by, you know, giving an interview on a personality show.

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