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Leaked Polling Doesn't Reveal Plot Against Obama — But Does Show Clinton's Weaknesses

"Testing your opponent's attacks on you is Campaigning 101," says Matzzie.

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Perhaps the most explosive thing to emerge from the Wikieaks' latest dive into John Podesta's email is an exchange about polling on, among other things, Barack Obama's Muslim ancestry and claim (doubtful, by the way!) to have used cocaine.

.@HillaryClinton 08 creating negative lines on @BarackObama:his father is Muslim/he's 4 gay adoption #PodestaEmails6 https://t.co/Cvsiufle01

The polling, contained in an exchange among Podesta and a series of other Democratic heavy hitters — Harry Reid's former chief of staff Susan McCue, former Clinton aide Paul Begala — came from a pollster at the Democratic firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research.

Some immediately interpreted it as, finally, the smoking gun that the Clintonites went darkly negative on Obama, which Begala immediately denied.

Not Clinton team. That was a super pac led by an Obama supporter planning to defend whoever won Dem primary. Tested… https://t.co/t39Resfe18

A cursory look at the names on the email supports that contention. One is Tom Matzzie, a former MoveOn staffer; he personally, and MoveOn, supported Obama. He told me that the group doing the polling was called the Campaign to Defend America, which was later renamed Progressive Media USA and met a fairly ignominious end after, in the eyes of some, misplaying nonprofit tax law.

"We had negative batteries we tested on BOTH Clinton and Obama in a hypothetical match-up against McCain. The research team that cooked up the Obama attacks eventually went on to work for the Obama campaign," he said. "Of course I have to leave open the possibility that the hackers did something to the emails but I don't doubt we tested all those things. Testing your opponent's attacks on you is Campaigning 101."

"My mission was to stop the Republican no matter the Democrat. We were facing McCain who wanted a bigger war in the Middle East, including bombing Iran," said Matzzie, who now works in the energy industry.

The hacked email, one of the thousands posted to WikiLeaks amid a wave of hacks into prominent Democratic and establishment figures that US officials have linked to Russian interests, also contains attachments with polling information on slides.

And indeed, while even testing the Obama attacks would have been shocking in 2008, the more interesting elements of the polling apply to the candidate running this year, Hillary Clinton. (Also interesting: Among the possible attacks on John McCain, warning voters that he was too old to be president ranked high.)

In the Clinton polling is more evidence of how clear and longstanding her flaws — that Americans don't trust her, first of all — are. Obama knew that. "Change You Can Believe In" was a tacit statement that his rival was the one you couldn't believe.

And as Clinton marches grimly toward the finish in 2016, this chart that John Podesta saw eight years ago still resonates:


Ben Smith is the editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed and is based in New York.

Contact Ben Smith at ben@buzzfeed.com.

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