Immediately after Mark Penn resigned as Hillary Clinton's chief strategist a week ago, he was on the phone with at least two prominent Democrats to assure them that nothing had changed. He said that -- though lacking a title now -- he still was polling and crafting her message, adding that he had just participated in a top-level conference call. De facto retention of Penn signified a desire to defeat Barack Obama at any cost.And sure enough, just minutes ago an email turned up from Garin informing me, as a loyal Hillary email subscriber, that he is the man [emphasis added]:
One day later, word was spread in Democratic circles that Geoff Garin, hired as a pollster by Sen. Clinton last month, had supplanted Penn as chief strategist. An experienced political practitioner renowned for ethical standards more than imagination or daring, Garin in charge reassured the party faithful. It was interpreted as ruling out an eleventh-hour assault on Obama that would have less chance of nominating Clinton than wrecking the party.
Is Penn deceiving friends about his real status just to save face? Or is Garin merely a figurehead to take the heat off Clinton while she still relies on the contentious Penn?
You've probably heard about some of the big changes going on in Hillary's campaign lately. My name is Geoff Garin, and along with Howard Wolfson, I'm now leading the campaign's strategy team. My job is to plot the path to the nomination and lay out the strategy that will get us there.
Garin went on to "lay out for you the situation" as he sees it and "point to two of our best weapons in this campaign." In other words, to assert himself as the guy in charge.
But wait a second . . . Novak paints Garin as someone with a softer approach than Penn [emphasis added]:
Democrats who are interested in preventing the struggle for the nomination from destroying the party sighed in relief. Garin looks to a post-Hillary political life and does not want to be seen conducting a berserk attack with little chances for success. In contrast, Penn might be willing to fly a kamikaze mission in what is likely to be his last political campaign. Thus, it is critical that Penn still plays a major role in the campaign . . .
Over the last week, I talked to 10 superdelegates (including two U.S. senators) who are committed to Clinton. Each claimed he would stick with her, but none could see how she could be nominated. In such a frame of mind, they would prefer a Geoff Garin-style soft landing to conclude the campaign. With Mark Penn still around, they could get a far more dramatic endgame.
Yet what have we seen over the weekend? Hillary in full fight mode over Obama's guns 'n religion gaffe. Clinton calling Obama's remarks "elitist," "demeaning" and "out of touch." Sure doesn't sound like a kinder and gentler Clinton to me. That would seem to suggest Penn is still pulling the strings.
Note: Hillary logo via HillaryClinton.com