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Strategist on Speak and Spin

Oct. 27 2008, Published 7:07 a.m. ET

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TERROR LEVEL ORANGE Clinton(Photo: Getty Images)

After last night's debate in Hanover, New Hampshire, the spin machine cranked up. Hillary Clinton's chief strategist and top pollster Mark Penn took a shot at explaining Barack Obama's flaccid performance. While Obama's people blamed his lack of attack partly on a "head cold," Penn said the problem was just his manner of speaking—as in not presidential.

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"He talks in the third person a lot," Penn told and a few other reporters. "That's just the way he speaks. It can make it hard for him to connect to the listener."

Other, less biased observers who have seen Obama speak repeatedly over the past few months echoed Penn's sentiment. "Hillary's not necessarily saying anything, but she sounds like a president. Obama sounds like ... a senator," noted a reporter on the 2008 Obama beat. "The repeated 'ums,' his staccato cadence—it's just not conducive to producing good sound bites."

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But what of Mrs. Clinton's trademark verbal cue—the shrill laugh that has become her knee-jerk reaction to a tough question? (Perhaps most noticeable yesterday when lovable kook Mike Gravel said she should be ashamed of voting to authorize a potential war with Iran.) "It is what it is," said Penn. "There were some funny moments today. You know, we're not that bland."

Neither was Clinton's bright orange blazer, which, to the dismay of some of her aides, blended into the orange MSNBC logo on TV. "In retrospect," said a staffer, "she probably should have worn blue."



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