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Mark Penn, Clinton strategist, warns Obama -- and the media

September 12, 2008 |  6:34 pm

A veteran Democratic political strategist has some advice for what appears to many to be a Barack Obama campaign rattled by the explosive entrance into the campaign of John McCain's vice presFormer Hillary Clinton presidential campaign strategist Mark Pennident pick, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

Mark Penn, the high-priced strategist who did such a good early job of launching Hillary Clinton's Democratic presidential campaign to doom at the hands of Obama, tells CBS.com he's worried that the Windy City gang will repeat the mistakes of the last two losing Democratic presidential campaigns by returning to the base after their convention instead of staying more on the convention message of centrism.

"It was more about tax cuts and strengthening the economy," says Penn, who notes that all campaigns go through periods of stress. "I think it was a message that was resonating. And so what happens in a situation like this is everybody rushes in with different pieces of advice. And it can be very hard to stay the course."

Penn says that if there's one thing the Obama campaign has been good at for 19 months it's scheduling major speeches on topical issues to focus attention on its agenda, and that it ought to do that on the ...

... economy. And avoid lipstick fights with McCain-Palin, especially between the Democrat's top candidate and the GOP's No. 2 candidate, Palin.

"The fact that the Republican convention was as successful as it was, was basically out of the hands of the Obama campaign," Penn acknowledges.

"I think these polls will settle down close to even. And I think the real important thing [for Obama] is not to overreact, not to be caught in a back and forth with Palin, but to get your candidate rising above it."

Penn also has a strong warning for the media, caught unawares by the Palin selection and now eagerly pursuing virtually anything to do with her.

"I think here the media is on very dangerous ground," Penn tells CBS.com. "I think that when you see them going through every single expense report that Gov. Palin ever filed, if they don't do that for all four of the candidates, they're on very dangerous ground.

Alaska Governor and Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin besieged for autographs

"I think the media so far has been the biggest loser in this race. And they continue to have growing credibility problems.

"And I think that that's a real problem growing out of this election. The media now, all of the media -- not just Fox News, that was perceived as highly partisan -- but all of the media is now being viewed as partisan in one way or another. And that is an unfortunate development."

So does the strategist, who had his own complaints about sexism in media coverage about Sen. Clinton, think the media is being harder on Palin than other candidates?

"I think that the media is doing the kinds of stories on Palin that they're not doing on the other candidates. And that's going to subject them to people concluding that they're giving her a tougher time.

"Now, the media defense would be, 'Yeah, we looked at these other candidates who have been in public life at an earlier time.'

"What happened here very clearly is that the controversy over Palin led to 37 million Americans tuning into a vice-presidential speech -- something that is unprecedented -- because they wanted to see for themselves," Penn adds. "This is an election in which the voters are going to decide for themselves. The media has lost credibility with them."

-- Andrew Malcolm

Photo (top): Mark Penn. Credit: Associated Press.

Photo (bottom): Sarah Palin besieged for autographs. Credit: Stephan Savoia / Associated Press

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