Mark Curtis's blog

"The Sunday Political Brunch" -- October 5, 2014

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(Providence, Rhode Island) – The 2014 election is now just under a month away and a lot is at stake. For months I have been handicapping some of the major races in the Senate, House, and Governorships. Today I thought I’d take a look at some actual issues, and assess which party might have the advantage. Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“Jobs, Jobs, Jobs!” – The latest unemployment rate may be good news for incumbents of all parties. The rate dropped on Friday to 5.9 percent, the lowest level since 2008. Republicans are likely to hold the House, and even make modest gains, so you are likely to see them tout their leadership. The same may be true for Democrats who rule the Senate – and perhaps might be enough to keep control there from slipping to the GOP.
The White House will want to claim credit, but with President Obama termed out, the benefit to him may be nil. I’ll rate it as a slight advantage for Republicans; very slight.

“Overall Economy” – Despite the good unemployment news, public confidence is not high. The unemployment rate can be skewed by people who simply gave up looking for jobs, and are not counted in the true jobless numbers. Unemployment among minorities is usually double or triple the overall national rate. Polls indicate the majority of the public feels the nation is still going in the wrong direction. Again, I would rate this as a slight advantage Republican, but only through this election cycle. If things don’t improve significantly by 2016, Democrats may gain lots of leverage from an impatient public.

“Abortion” – As with many social issues, this no longer is a front-burner priority, unless a candidate tries to make it so and the results can be dicey. Roe v. Wade is now a Supreme Court decision that is almost 42 years old. Even a lot of Republicans are pro-choice these days. There just isn’t a lot of stomach out there in the heartland to make this the top-tier issue it once was. Advantage - Democrats.

“Gun Control” – Two years ago after the horrible Sandy Hook School killings in Connecticut, there was a lot of clamor for new gun control measures at the federal, state, and even local level. But, little has been accomplished legislatively. Just like pro-choice forces have an iron grip on the abortion rights issue; gun owners’ rights groups hold a similar grip on the Second Amendment. Advantage - Republicans (and moderate-to-conservative pro-Second Amendment Democrats, too).

“Foreign Affairs” – On the downside, White House relations with Israel have been a sore spot. On the bright side, the President has convinced reluctant allies such as France to help on the ISIS mission, and has at least five Arab countries backing the effort, too. The U.S. is giving highly visible help to the Ebola situation in Africa. But a foreign relations is - at best - a thin and fragile piece of glass that can fracture at the slightest jolt. Right now the advantage is with Democrats but ask me again in ten minutes and I may have a different answer.

“National Defense & Terrorism” – It’s been a mixed bag for the Obama Administration. Yes, it ordered the successful strike that took out Osama bin Laden, but then there was the threat of military action against Syria that never came. And when it came to ISIS, at first the President said, “We don’t have a strategy yet.” National defense is a “what have you done for me lately” proposition. If the current strikes on ISIS are plentiful and successful, this could be a big boost for Democrats at the eleventh hour. But if beheadings and terrorist attacks persist, the Democrats may wave good-bye to control of the U.S. Senate. Now, I always hate to put life-and-death matters in the context of political advantage, but as I always say, every policy initiative has a political consequence. Right now – advantage Republicans.

“Health Care” – Despite all of the back and forth over Obamacare, the real long-term consequences of that legislation have yet to be felt. The website sign-up fiasco has long faded from the headlines, and, so too, have the horror stories about people losing their doctors. If the issue stabilizes – pardon the medical pun – the advantage may be with Democrats. But as many suspect, the real “cancerous” consequences could be further down the road and that’s when the political fallout may resume. Right now, the issue is neutralized pending further prognosis. Advantage - no one.

“Trust in Government” – The White House looks bad over the recent security breaches at the Presidential home, as well as the continuing IRS scandal. Republicans look stubborn over the inability to craft a significant compromise bill on Immigration Reform, and the repeated efforts to repeal Obamacare even though they knew well enough in advance that they did not have enough votes in the Senate, (in other words, time wasted). The federal government looks like a car driving on two tires that is stuck in a ditch. Advantage – no one!

Who do you think has the upper hand going into the 2014 midterm election? To post your thoughts, just click the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

© 2014, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

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“The Sunday Political Brunch” -- September 28, 2014

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(Providence, Rhode Island) – Here is something most people don’t know about me. I have helped to manage three successful political campaigns. These all occurred when I was on hiatus from working as a journalist, so there was no conflict of interest. Those experiences - as well as my years as a political reporter – have given me some insight into how to build a winning campaign. Since we are at the height of political season, I thought we could “brunch” on that this week:

“Symbolism Matters” – One of my candidates was a retired fire chief. While he dressed in a suit and tie for his press photos and TV commercial, I asked him if he still had his old fire chief’s helmet. He seemed puzzled when I told him to just tuck it under his arm in all the photos and video. Why? Because a white fire chief’s helmet with gold clusters screams, “Leadership!” Plus, everyone loves firefighters. This was a tough race, because he was a rookie politician running against incumbents. It worked; he won!

“Endorsements – Do they Work?” – The answer is,
"Not so much – but it depends." Look, a Republican may get endorsed by five key business interests or politically- conservative groups, while a Democrat may get endorsed by three labor unions and a couple of liberal-leaning groups. So it’s a standoff. If someone offers to endorse your candidate, ask three key questions: 1) How much money will their group contribute? 2) How much “people power” can they provide in terms of volunteers working phone banks, knocking on doors, or helping drive voters to the polls on Election Day? and 3) What is their group expecting in return for all this help? The bottom line: Endorsements must have teeth; otherwise, they are just empty promises.

“Look Like You’re Already on Board” – A town council candidate I was working with had never held elective office before. But she was endorsed by two of the sitting council members. So, in her video, I had her walk down the street in between the two of them – and stroll right past the town hall. We did not say or imply she was on the council, but the video did elevate her stature by showing her with two very popular, long-time councilors. Endorsements don’t always work, but in this case they did since she won!

“New Media vs. Old Media” – The bottom line anymore is you must do both! The first questions I ask people who tell me they are thinking of running for office are, “Have you started a Facebook page? Do you have a website? What’s your Twitter handle?” The problem is that many in the "New Media" generation scoff at traditional radio, TV and newspaper. You can’t. People over 60 vote in huge percentages and love “Old Media!” People under 30 vote in low percentages, but love New Media – almost to the exclusion of traditional news outlets. So, you have to do both! If you exclude one, you’re dead.

“Make it Understandable” – There is an old acronym, K.I.S.S., which stand for “Keep it Simple, Stupid.” I have never bought into that, feeling it was condescending to voters. People are a lot more politically savvy than that. Bumper stickers don’t win campaigns! But, what I do say is, "Keep your messages understandable and digestible." I once covered a candidate who offered a “40-Point Plan” to turn the economy around. That’s way too much! In truth, offer a plan that maybe has 3 or 4 key cornerstones. Otherwise, people get overwhelmed by information. Think of it like serving a meal. You wouldn’t try to eat forty items from a buffet at once, so just put 3 or 4 of your favorites on the plate at any given moment in time.

“Make News” – I once worked with a very shy politician. He did not like the cameras and the media spotlight at all, but he was a key committee member on issues affecting senior citizens. So we held a public hearing on healthcare fraud schemes that targeted the elderly. Victims came and spoke about horrendous scams that had victimized them, and my candidate (who was up for reelection) spoke about proposed legislation that might help. Clearly, the spotlight was on the victims and not my boss; but the press clamored to interview the candidate anyway. We maximized our free publicity, while making our camera-shy boss look like a hero!

“The Intangibles” – I’ve talked about a lot of things that are within your control, or at least within your sphere of influence. Manage and massage the things you can influence, but realize there are things almost completely out of your control. The weather – for example – can affect voter turnout, but there’s not much you can do to control it. Voter mood, such as apathy or anger, is also something that’s hard to combat. In 1992, the economy slid into a recession, so even after a triumphant victory in the first Persian Gulf War, George H.W. Bush was voted out of office. And twice in modern history, a Democratic President has had his “hat handed to him” in a Congressional midterm election, after trying to tinker with the nation’s healthcare system - President Clinton in 1994, and President Obama in 2010. An angry public just can’t be managed by a political campaign.

“Fire in the Belly!” – One intangible you cannot manage as a chief-of-staff, campaign director, or communications operative, is how much passion your candidate can put into the election effort. It is often referred to as how much a candidate has the “fire in the belly!” I can’t precisely define it, but it’s a real phenomenon. Ronald Reagan had it in 1980, when people questioned whether he was too old for the job; Bill Clinton had it in 1992, when people said there was no way he could defeat the highest rated President in modern history; and Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton had it in 2008, when they waged the most titan primary battle ever. When I was a youth soccer coach about 15 years ago, the girls had a pre-game chant: “You’ve got to want it to win it; and we want it more!” It was about passion and desire and determination and overcoming odds. It can work on the soccer field; and it can work on the political chessboard!

What do you think it takes to win in politics? How does someone get your vote? Let us know by clicking the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

© 2014, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

Photo Courtesy: ABC News.com

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