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April 7, 2008

Throughout this race it has been really interesting to watch the message of each campaign and how that meshes with each candidate’s narrative. Obama’s message of change and hope by engaging voters has been often mocked and derided by people who deem themselves “realistic” (others call them cynics…I’ll leave that up to you) but regardless of what anyone says, it has been consistent. This reflects his personal narrative very well as he is very literally a change from what voters are used to (in age, race, background, etc), and approaches problems in a different way (again, you may disagree, but foreign policy and a willingness to meet with those he disagrees with is one example). Many may disagree but I think that if he hadn’t had such a strong sense of “change” and a break from the past, he wouldn’t have survived the Wright issue like he did–generally poll numbers didn’t change significantly (Clinton’s negatives actually increased more). If people didn’t see him as a break from the past, I doubt so many voters would have been able to disassociate him from his pastor.

Clinton on the other hand, has tried several messages. Starting with the notion of inevitability, moving to experience, the victim card, talking about Obama (unelectable, less qualified than McCain, I shouldn’t back out until everyone votes). All of these are messages that might work in some context, but the rotating of so many messages really makes none of them stick (and possibly makes it look like she trying to find what will work). If Penn had been as good a pollster as he must be, it seems like he would have looked at the dominant narrative about Clinton, which she must overcome (the Machavellian sort of do-anything, dishonest) and tried to change it. Instead, by sticking to this hodge-podge of messages, it actually makes the stories of exaggerations/misspeaks/lies (Bosnia, Northern Ireland, the story of the death of a pregnant woman) and hypocrisy (NAFTA and Penn with the Colombians) more damaging because the reinforce existing beliefs

UPDATE: Penn could still do some more damage on his (sort of) way out.

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