WASHINGTON — Vice President Al Gore dropped pollster Mark Penn on Friday as part of an accelerating effort to refocus his ailing presidential campaign, an operation Gore and his senior strategists concluded was bogged down with too many consultants with too many competing outside interests.
Gore replaced Penn with veteran Democratic pollster Harrison Hickman, two days after he announced he was moving his campaign "lock, stock and barrel" to Nashville. He also released three other prominent pollsters who have been hired on contracts to serve as advisors to the campaign.
Penn has been a pivotal advisor to President Clinton for the last four years in his capacity as pollster for the Democratic National Committee. He and partner Doug Schoen also are advising Hillary Rodham Clinton. Combined with his work for Gore, this put Penn in an unprecedented position in modern Washington: at ground zero in the political operations of the country's three most prominent Democrats. His firm also does extensive corporate work, including polling for Microsoft.
To a growing number of Penn critics in the Gore camp, this lengthy roster of clients became emblematic of a campaign in which several top advisors seemed to approach the presidential campaign with wavering attention spans and divided loyalties.
Penn also faced questions about his strategic judgments. Some Gore advisors believe that the vice president was caught flat-footed by the strong nomination challenge being waged by former Sen. Bill Bradley (D-N.J), although Penn loyalists said Friday that his numbers did capture Bradley's rise in recent months.
Perhaps more important, Penn does not believe that "Clinton fatigue" is a major factor in 2000 politics, say those familiar with his thinking. This was an assessment at odds with some critical voices in the Gore camp who believe that overcoming the nation's weariness with Clinton is a key challenge.
In another staff change, campaign manager Craig Smith said he was stepping down rather than uprooting his family and moving to Nashville. He has two daughters in grade school.