With Barack Obama surging dramatically in Pennsylvania opinion polls in the last week, Hillary Clinton's campaign got more bad news yesterday when her chief strategist was forced to resign for promoting a trade deal that Clinton opposes.
Mark Penn quit two days after the Wall Street Journal revealed that, as chief executive of the public relations and lobbying firm Burson-Marsteller Worldwide, he had been hired by Colombia to lobby Congress for a new US-Colombia free trade pact. Speaking to the AFL-CIO in Philadelphia last week, Clinton had reasserted her determined opposition to the deal, echoing the labor's view that it will cost American jobs. When news of Penn's Colombia trade links broke, several unions demanded that Clinton immediately axe him or risk losing their support.
"How can we trust that a President Hillary Clinton would stand strong against this trade deal when her top advisor is being paid by Colombia to promote it?", said James Hoffa, president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. This has caused us to question Clinton's stated stances on everything from human rights and environmental issues to very basic labor issues," he added.
On Saturday, Penn issued a statement via the Clinton campaign saying that he'd made an "error in judgment that will not be repeated, and I am sorry for it."
Given Clinton's efforts to woo labor by distancing herself from 1994's North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which husband Bill championed as president despite fierce union opposition, Penn had clearly become a major liability.
However, in announcing his 'jump-before-being-pushed' resignation, Clinton officials also said that Penn's polling firm will continue to offer services and advice to the campaign. That news will no doubt cushion the blow for Penn, whose Penn, Schoen & Berland consulting outfit has already been paid $$10.8 million from the campaign.
The latest staff shake-up for Clinton, who replaced her campaign manager in February, comes at a time when Barak Obama made substantial inroads into the huge lead she's been enjoying in Pennsylvania, whose April 22 primary she must win to keep her campaign afloat.
For much of the last month Clinton held a comfortable 16% lead over Obama in the Keystone state. However, in the last seven days Obama has shaved ten points from the gap.
It hasn't been all bad news for Clinton. A CBS/New York Times poll released on Friday had Obama and Clinton in a statistical dead-heat among Democrats nationally, with Obama holding a 46-43% lead. Obama had a 58 to 43% in the same poll a month ago.
Meanwhile, Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean said yesterday that the question of how to deal with Florida and Michigan may not be dealt with until the curtain falls on primary season on June 3.
According to Associated Press tallies, Obama now has a 1,634 to 1,500 delegate lead over Clinton. A total of 2,024 delegates is needed to clinch the Democratic nomination.