Masters in Politics Podcast

Top Clinton Strategist Says Iowa Was a Real Win

Joel Benenson, the Democratic front-runner's chief strategist, says focusing on her margin of victory in the Hawkeye State misses the point.

After a razor-thin victory in Iowa, Hillary Clinton’s senior strategist, Joel Benenson, dismissed those who are trying to diminish her first-place finish in the caucuses. 

“Winning is winning," Benenson told Bloomberg Politics' Masters in Politics podcast. "All the pundits who are twisting themselves into pretzels to try to figure out what did every vote mean. Was it really a win? It was a win. The Super Bowl is on Sunday and if a team misses the extra point and loses by a point, they lose the Super Bowl."

Trying to minimize Senator Bernie Sanders’ strong showing among younger voters in Iowa, Benenson sought to flip the argument by asking, “I wonder why people aren’t asking Senator Sanders why he did so poorly with people over the age of 45?” Nevertheless, Benenson, who is Clinton's chief pollster, did concede that the campaign would be actively trying to reach out to the 17-29 age group by “making the case for progressive values.” 

Benenson echoed an argument Clinton herself has begun making more bluntly, suggesting that Sanders' proposals are little more than fantasy. Clinton, he said, “has the grit and the tenacity to actually produce results, not just put out plans that sound good on paper but don’t hold up under scrutiny and don’t add up when experts look at the numbers." He added: "You have to have plans that are going to work in the real world.” 

Alluding to reports that Sanders will be “stepping up attacks” against Clinton, Benenson seemed prepared, saying that “politics is a tough business and the going is getting a little tougher.” But he indicated he was surprised Sanders “has gone after Secretary Clinton personally.” Referring to Sanders' claims of having of avoided attack ads during his career in politics, Benenson added: “This is a guy who’s said he’s never run a negative campaign, never run a negative ad. … It shouldn’t be personal.”

As for the Republican side, Benenson again criticized campaign pundits—specifically those who thought it was a “genius move” for Trump not to participate in the Fox News debate last week in Iowa. Noting that entrance polls showed 45 percent of Republican caucus-goers made up their mind in the remaining few days of the campaign, he pointed out that "was the group Donald Trump performed worst with. He ended up in single digits and probably opened the door for Ted Cruz to do so well and Marco Rubio to do so well.”

Noting that Trump “seems to have more lives than a cat,” Benenson said the one thing Trump has going for him is that he is “not a conventional candidate and he is not running a conventional campaign.

"I think the only way Donald Trump can succeed is by maintaining his kind of unconventionality," he said.

Perhaps ironically for a longtime political pollster, Benenson railed against the media’s “obsession with polling,” calling it “a waste of media resources.” Benenson, a former reporter himself, called for news organizations to “put more money into reporters instead of spending millions of dollars on horse-race nonsense, it’s absurd."

"There’s a fundamental misunderstanding of what the use of polls is," he said.


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