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Penn was sliding into Morris' job: molding the message, refining the ads, conferring daily with the President. Clintonites couldn't help noticing his taking over not just Morris' responsibilities but his persona as well. Gone was the shambling professor; enter the adviser who brooked no interference, who seemed as confident and quick-tempered as Morris had been. He vetoed a meeting between pollster Stan Greenberg and Clinton. And tensions were building between him and Schoen. Some thought he was excluding Schoen the way Morris had tried to exclude him.


Clinton had won the first debate handily, but the consultants were worried that unwinnable questions might dominate the second, a town-hall format in San Diego with questions from voters. The atmosphere was shifting. Dole ratcheted up his rhetoric and vowed to go after Clinton hard on character. At the first prep session, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Clinton tried hitting back, rebutting Dole's criticisms and calling him hypocritical. But everyone could see it didn't work, so Penn proposed a strategy of benign neglect: "Clinton Soars, Dole Whines." Answer attacks when you must, he told Clinton, but end each answer with a short upbeat phrase, like, "I want to build that bridge."

Clinton barely acknowledged Dole's attacks in San Diego, but when he came off the stage that night, he wasn't sure how it had gone. Penn already had the poll results and showed them to the President. "We're fine," Penn told him. Clinton smiled.

One weekend in early October, Clinton invited Penn over to the White House, and the two men hung out on Clinton's private putting green. Hillary wandered over and joined the conversation. "Shouldn't we do some testimonials to talk about the President's character?" she wondered. Penn liked the idea and suggested using emotionally charged "witnesses"--people like James Brady, the gunshot survivor whose walk across the stage at the Democratic National Convention had been one of the event's few moving moments. A spot in which Brady defended the President's character--"I say, look what he's done"--went up Oct. 17. After that, Knapp wrote an even more highly charged testimonial, one from Marc Klaas, whose daughter Polly had been abducted and murdered in California. Klaas looked at the camera with burning eyes and said, "I hear people question the President's character and integrity. It's just politics." Critics described the ad as shameless. "When pundits start calling it shameless," says Knapp, "that tells me it's good." Clinton pronounced the Klaas spot even better than the Brady ad.


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