Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton replaced one pollster and a strategist with another Sunday, letting Mark Penn go and filling his place with Geoffrey Garin.
In elevating Garin, Clinton gives prominence to a Washington insider who is well connected and seems to carry little of the baggage Penn brought to his role.
The adjective “well-respected” seems glued to Garin’s name in press accounts. The adjectives “controversial,” “abrasive,” “gruff” and “rumpled” were always pasted on Penn.
Penn had been serving as Clinton’s chief political strategist until he stepped down Sunday. He is also the chief executive of the Burson-Marsteller, a public relations firm.
Reportedly, Clinton had been angered that Penn and Burson-Marsteller were working to help the government of Colombia obtain a trade agreement with the United States.
Clinton opposes the alliance. Penn’s connection to Colombia could have hurt her with voters in the April 22 Pennsylvania primary.
“The important thing is just to win,” Garin told The Washington Post after he took over for Penn. “My view is the campaign has to focus on the work of April and May and the early part of June and do well at all of that. So on one level, first things first.”
Garin, 54, who joined the Clinton campaign last month as a pollster, has been president of Peter D. Hart Research Associates since 1984. He joined the company in 1978 as a senior analyst and vice president.
While at the company, he has worked as a pollster and strategist for several Democratic senatorial candidates. They include Charles Schumer of New York, Dianne Feinstein of California and Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia.
He has also worked with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Pew Charitable Trusts, the AFL-CIO and the American Federation of Teachers.
Garin’s connections to unions could help Clinton in Pennsylvania with some of the voters she needs to win the state and slow the momentum of Sen. Barack Obama.
Evan Miller of The New Argument blog notes that Garin gave some unsolicited advice to the Clinton campaign in February, advice the campaign ignored.
“If I were Hillary Clinton, the last thing I’d be doing is talking about super delegates, because the voters don’t want to hear that,” Garin said. “She really needs to make the case about why she’s the better candidate to lead the country.”
In other comments, Garin has emphasized the importance of speaking to the economic issues that are on people’s minds.
But at this moment in the Clinton campaign, personnel issues may be as important as policy issues.
Penn was in the middle of months of internal fighting. He seemed to have alienated everyone but Clinton and her husband, Bill Clinton.
Wolfson and Garin don’t have this history of contention, The Washington Post reported.
“People like Howard and Geoff,” one campaign aide said. “I presume there will be less strife.”