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Mark Penn and Hillary: Monkey See, Monkey Do

A Commentary By Dick Morris

On March 19, 2007, Mark Penn wrote a memo to Hillary Clinton saying:

"Every speech should contain a line [saying that] you were born in the middle of America to a middle class family in the middle of the last century."

On May 10, 2007, Time Magazine reported that Hillary's stump speech included the lines:

"I was born into a middle class family in the middle of the country in the middle of the last century."

After Penn's memos were released to the media this week, Hillary's people spread the word that she did not take Penn's advice. But it is evident that she did.

The strategy Penn recommended was ridiculous. He somehow thought that by stressing Hillary's normalcy, Obama's unusual name, race, origin, parents, and skin color would redound to his detriment. In fact, the exact opposite proved to be the case. It has been his very novelty that has underscored his appeal. Penn missed the point.

But the larger point in his memos is that Hillary sought, from the beginning of the 2008 campaign, to use race as an issue against Obama. Her early willingness to wrap herself in the flag and marginalize Obama as an outsider bespeaks her efforts to inject race into the campaign. As soon as Obama emerged as her chief opponent, Hillary and Bill Clinton tried to make the election about race and to contrast her American roots with Obama's otherness.

It would be a mistake to think that Hillary's campaign against Obama is over. She and Bill both realize that if McCain wins, she would be the likely Democratic nominee against him in 2012. At the age of 76, McCain might make easy pickings. Hillary's argument to win the nomination would be simple: I told you so. Her warnings that Obama was unelectable would have proven to have been prescient and Democrats are likely to feel chagrined that they rejected her in 2008.

How will the Clintons undermine Obama? Not by any overt statement. In public, they will appear to be his biggest fans. Hillary does not dare incurring the wrath of Democratic voters if they feel that she abandoned her party's nominee in the general election. But the Clintons will do what they do best: they will hog the spotlight. By speaking on Tuesday and Wednesday, this former first couple will spread themselves over the convention, usurping media, taking face time, and making the convention appear, for its first three days, as a Hillary Clinton gathering.

Remember how in 2004, Bill Clinton timed the release of his memoir My Life to coincide with the start of the John Kerry campaign. His swings through the nation, attracting lines and crowds at bookstores drew attention away from Kerry. His strategy of distraction culminated when he scheduled a book signing in Boston during the Democratic Convention, drawing mobs and pulling the spotlight away from Kerry.

By hogging the publicity at the Democratic Convention and by keeping the spotlight away from Obama, the Clintons are going to do all they can to stop the Democrat from getting a bounce from his Convention appearance. How will they hurt Obama down the road -- Bill will make off-handed comments, seemingly mistakes. A lose cannon, he will appear to be undisciplined as he follows a game plan to undermine the candidate. Hillary will do her best to avoid campaigning for Obama and will undercut him in any way she can without getting caught.

Obama: Watch your back!

Views expressed in this column are those of the author, not those of Rasmussen Reports.

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