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Hillary Clinton's chief strategist talks debate preparation




Hillary Clinton speaks at the Democratic National Committee's summer meeting in Minneapolis, where she was trying to court all-important party delegates to her side.
Hillary Clinton speaks at the Democratic National Committee's summer meeting in Minneapolis, where she was trying to court all-important party delegates to her side.
Jim Mone/AP

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Campaign staffers have worked long and hard to prepare their candidates for Tuesday night's democratic debate.  

They've gone over messaging, played the role of opponent, and worked on comebacks and zingers with their presidential hopefuls. But determining exactly what the image and message should be in a debate isn't always easy. 

Joel Beneson, CEO of Beneson Strategy Group and chief strategist and pollster for Hillary Clinton's White House bid, joined the show to talk about what it takes to prepare for debates.

"When you're going into the debate, it's less about honing the message or changing your message," he said. "What the debates are about is being able to master the skill of delivering that in a 60 or a 90-second answer ... you really have to hone your message to the time you have."

Even then, however, a strong message is crucial. When asked for an example of a debate message gone wrong, Beneson pointed to a particular exchange between 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama during the town hall debate. At the time, Beneson served as the lead pollster for the Obama campaign. 

"Gov. Romney thought he was going to score some points on the tragic attack at Benghazi ... and I think President Obama turned forcefully and addressed him about the nature of the tragedy and the fact that he knew those people, and I think he turned that into a winning moment in a way that — I think — the Romney camp had miscalculated," he said. 

Beneson says that candidates will usually practice for debates in front of a camera. Campaign staffers watch from another room and keep an eye out for body language that may distract debate watchers. "And then they will show the candidate the videotape so that the candidate can visualize it for himself or herself and see how certain things played," he said.

Beneson has played an integral role on three winning campaigns: once with Bill Clinton and twice for President Obama. When asked what advice he would give a candidate heading into a debate, he says the answer is simple: seize every chance to shine.

"I think the most important thing to remember -- and I do tell candidates this -- every answer is an opportunity to drive your message," he said. "If you think about what the question is really about -- and what your message is -- you can take almost any question you get thrown at and make it work for you by driving it back to your core message."

Being the chief advisor for the Hillary Clinton campaign, Take Two's A Martinez asked if he could give any hints about what viewers can expect from the democratic frontrunner. 

"Nope," he said. "I don't talk about prep. Never have, never will."

Press the blue play button above to hear A Martinez talk to Hillary Clinton chief strategist Joel Beneson