ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Mark Penn, the pollster and senior strategist for Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential bid, left the campaign Sunday after it was disclosed he met with representatives of the Colombian government to help promote a free trade agreement Clinton opposes.
“After the events of the last few days, Mark Penn has asked to give up his role as chief strategist of the Clinton Campaign,” campaign manager Maggie Williams said in a statement released Sunday. “Mark, and Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates, Inc. will continue to provide polling and advice to the campaign.”
Communications director Howard Wolfson and pollster Geoff Garin will direct the campaign’s message and strategic efforts for the campaign going forward, Williams said.
Penn’s departure comes as Clinton, considered the front-runner for the Democratic nomination last year, trails Barack Obama in delegates and the popular vote with a must-win primary in Pennsylvania April 22 and nine other contests remaining.
Clinton almost certainly will end the primary season narrowly behind Obama in the popular vote and pledged delegates unless the nullified primaries in Florida and Michigan are counted – a scenario that seems remote.
Her challenge will be to convince some 800 superdelegates to back her despite the numbers.
Penn has been a lightning rod for controversy throughout the campaign and managed to retain considerable influence in the operation almost solely because of the candidate’s loyalty to him.