Hillary By The Numbers

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In case you were wondering whether anyone over at Hillary HQ was worried about the new Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll — which shows Barack Obama performing far better than Senator Clinton in head-to-head match-ups with potential GOP nominees — Hillary pollster-strategist-guru Mark Penn has issued a memo to “interested parties” explaining how the poll he’s reading — a New Hampshire survey by WMUR/CNN — tells a far different (and for Hillary, happier) story.

Penn is a big brain and a fine pollster (a statement that holds true whether or not you support the DLC-style centrism that he uses his polls to advocate). But anytime a paid pollster/consultant releases a memo to the world, your immediate assumption should be that the truth is something close to the opposite of what the memo says. Not that the facts of the memo are wrong — that the WMUR poll shows Hillary to be strong and getting stronger in New Hampshire is fairly incontrovertible — but that the stated rationale for writing the memo (in this case, We’re Doing Great and Aren’t Worried At All!) is probably baloney.

Which is not to say that Penn or anyone else in the Clinton campaign is panicking. She is certainly in a strong position to win the nomination. But the fear that she is not her party’s best general election candidate continues to dog her, and is a rationale often given by likely Democratic primary votes who say they like Hillary well enough but are supporting Obama (or Edwards or another Dem.) The LAT/Bloomberg poll fuels that fear. Which is why Mark Penn is writing memos about polls to “interested parties.”

UPDATE: Reader Mike M asks:

I don’t understand what you’re writing here, Jay.

Seems like you’re saying that Hillary’s pollster trotting out favorable poll numbers about Hillary is proof that Hillary is worried.

But then you say you’re not saying that.

So what are you saying?

My point was to deconstruct the Penn memo — its contents, and why it was written. What I’m saying is that Hillary’s people are worried — not panicked, but worried. She’s maintaining her lead against Obama, both nationally and in key states like New Hampshire. But some of the comparative numbers, illustrated by the LAT/Bloomberg poll, underscore why Hillaryland continues to worry about the “electability” question and the effect it might have on voters once they really clue in come the fall. Penn’s memo was designed to counter or at least confuse the storyline coming out of the LAT poll.