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“The Sunday Political Brunch” -- April 26, 2015

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(Providence, Rhode Island) – Former Secretary of State and Senator Hillary Clinton paid a trip to New Hampshire this past week, her first visit since formally announcing her candidacy for President of the United States. The Granite State was a redemptive factor for her in 2008, as it was for her husband Bill Clinton back in 1992. New Hampshire was a positive, pivotal point for both of their campaigns. That got me to thinking, “What is former President Clinton’s role in his wife’s 2016 bid for the White House?” Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“WWBCD” – That stands for “What would Bill Clinton do?” First, I am not trying to mock the popular religious saying; instead, I am trying to channel it in the political realm. Like him or not, Bill Clinton remains a very popular figure in this country. Aside from Ronald Reagan, he is the only other President in my lifetime (and there have been ten) who could have won a third term if not for the 22nd Amendment. Let’s be clear: It’s Hillary’s race to win or lose, and she must be the driving force. But he could certainly be an “x-factor”.

“Knock, Hello? Anyone Home?” -- The fact that Hillary Clinton has no viable opponents right now puts her on the glide path to an easy nomination. That may sound like a blessing; it is not! Without primary opponents there are no debates; there is little spark of controversy; and, consequently, there is little room for her in the headlines. The Republicans look as if they are going to have a “Battle Royale,” so they will garner the vast majority of the press attention. Bottom line: "Out of sight, out of mind" is not a high-profile strategy.

“Invite Opponents” – Here is my boldest strategy suggestion to date. Bill Clinton should meet quietly with former Governor Martin O’Malley, and plead with him to join the race. He should even suggest that O’Malley criticize Hillary on some issues (and, indeed, O’Malley has already pointed out some areas where they disagree). Mrs. Clinton needs a foil in the primaries, as a boxer needs a sparring partner for months before a championship fight. I would also suggest that former President Clinton “invite” Vice President Joe Biden to join the race, too; but I think Biden will find a way there on his own.

“Stir the Pot!” – I know I sound as if I am trying to provoke a Clinton vs. O’Malley fight, and to some extent I am. I have been predicting here for months that former Secretary Clinton would pick O’Malley as her running mate, and I stick to that. Believe it or not, a feisty intraparty fight has little downside. In 1980, George H.W. Bush called Ronald Reagan’s budget ideas “voodoo economics.” Despite that caustic attack, which many of us remember to this day, Bush got the VP nod for eight years and then became President in his own right. It also paved the way for one son – and now possibly another – to become President. That’s the kind of dynasty the Clintons hope to create as well!

“Divest the Foundation” – At some point – and it’s already simmering – the Clintons need to address the issue of the Clinton Foundation. Look! It’s well intended and does a lot of good work, but some contributions by wealthy donors and foreign countries gave the feeling of “quid pro quo” while Mrs. Clinton was Secretary of State. Maybe the Clintons should turn the foundation over to a blind trust, or pick a bipartisan board of directors to run it until further notice. Another idea might be to stop taking any contributions for the foreseeable future, but donate the accumulated interest each year, without touching the principle. Anyway, it’s a headache they need to deal with.

“Don’t Let Her Be ‘Gored’” – Bill Clinton should campaign for his wife all over the country, but particularly in the South and in minority communities. Al Gore made the fatal mistake of not accepting Bill Clinton’s offer to campaign in those constituencies. Had President Clinton done so, it’s possible Gore might have won Tennessee or Arkansas - either one of which would have put Gore in the White House regardless of what happened in Florida. This time Bill Clinton could help keep Virginia and North Carolina blue; and he could be a big power broker in Florida and - yes - maybe even in Arkansas.

“Be a Norman Rockwell Painting!” – One thing Bill Clinton could do is be a more frequent part of the family portrait. It will be critical for him to be in lots of photo ops with his wife, daughter Chelsea and son-in-law Marc, as well as the Clintons' grandchild. Voters love family-centric candidates regardless of party, but the Clintons have been challenged in this area, to say the least. It’s never too late to recreate their public image; and - as we know - in politics, real or perceived images matter.

“The Steady Hand of Leadership” – This will sound like a complete contradiction, because Bill Clinton was elected President in his mid 40s, becoming one of our country’s youngest Commanders-in-Chief. However, this time he might attack the GOP candidates for being too young and inexperienced. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Governor Scott Walker (R-WI) are all still in their 40s. The Clintons – now both in their late 60s – could campaign on being the steady hand of experience. It would be a Houdini-like trick, but I bet the Clintons could pull it off.

“Why He Wants the White House So Badly” – I spent a lot of time covering Bill Clinton as he campaigned for his wife in 2008. At first, people questioned his motives and their relationship: Do they really love each other, or is this just a political business arrangement? I spoke with him a few times (photo above) and covered many rallies – some at which she was present but mostly where he was on his own. I have never seen a more passionate campaigner in my career. Hands down, he truly believes she’d be a great President; and he really wants to live at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue again. Yes, some of it is about influencing the world’s power structure again; but much of it is about Bill Clinton’s legacy, too. If she wins, he wins! It will be fascinating to watch as his role unfolds.

What do you think Bill Clinton’s role should be in Campaign 2016? Let us know your comments by clicking the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

© 2015 Mark Curtis Media, LLC

Photo courtesy: MCM

"The Sunday Political Brunch" -- April 19, 2015

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(Providence, Rhode Island) – People often ask me, “Where do you get the ideas for your weekly political blog?” Sometimes – such as last week, when two Presidential candidates entered the race – it’s easy. Then there are the proverbial “slow news days,” when finding an interesting nugget is difficult. Let’s “brunch” on that this week!

“What Are People Talking About?” - I was at a birthday party Saturday night, and everyone there was a political junkie. I jotted down a number of items from our conversations on the back of a business card, and today’s column was born. Sometimes it’s as simple as engaging people about what they have shared with you. I know my notes look like a jumbled mess, but they are “prompts” for each of the observations I make here today.

“Not Everyone’s Cup of Tea!” – Over the years, I have discovered three groups: Those junkies, like me, who love politics; the people who absolutely hate politics and run from the discussion like scalded dogs; and those who drop in and drop out of the political conversation, usually entering the arena about four to six months before a campaign, and vanishing from the discussion by Inauguration Day.

“What’s a Reporter to Do?” – Given the divergent public sentiment towards politics, it’s often challenging what to cover, or what not to cover. Media management really struggles with this, reaching little consensus. On a recent job interview, the prospective boss told me, “We want you covering politics 24/7, and that’s all we want you to do!” A week later, a news manager at a different TV station said to me, “Unless the Mayor gets caught with a prostitute, we just aren’t interested in covering politics!” Those are two vastly different business models, but why the difference?

“The Audience Is Boss” – A lot is determined by making an educated guess about what the public wants, sometimes at the expense of sacrificing what the public needs to know about. News content is heavily researched at many media outlets, and the results are stark. Do you know why you see so many health stories on the news? That’s because audience-member surveys tell news managers that’s what viewers want. Do you know why you see so little international news anymore? Because a lot of viewers say it’s boring, not important, or not relevant to their lives (even though it may be).

“The 40-Percent Solution” – This past midterm election in 2014 brought just 36.4 percent of voters to the polls nationwide. That’s the lowest turnout since World War II. Obviously, a lot of people are disconnected, or are uninterested in the political process. Consequently, you get news executives who say, “Why should we cover politics, when only about one-third of the audience is interested?” My answer is always that the public needs to know about what the politicians are doing, even though they may not want to know. (It’s like your parents' making you eat your vegetables as a kid. You may not want to eat them, but you need to eat them!) Sometimes I win the argument; sometimes I don’t.

“But Wait! People Are Interested!” – The audience sends us mixed signals; that’s a given. Whenever I do a public speaking event – most often during campaign seasons – people usually ask two questions: a) Who is winning?; and, b) For whom will you vote? The last question is easy. For reasons of personal privacy and professional ethics, I never disclose my voting choices publicly. Only my family knows. As to the first question, I find it curious that so many people – from the fully engaged, to those who are indifferent – all want to know who is ahead in the polls. It’s the “horserace” aspect of political campaigns that draws so much interest. I realize a lot of people watch politics like a sporting event, but at least they are trying to pay attention to some of it.

“We Can Do Better” – As an industry, the media can do a much better job of covering politics. All too often, a reporter goes to the State House and interviews politicians who are for or against a big tax increase. It’s all about the winners and losers, but that’s only half the story. Reporters need to get out and interview average working people who are directly affected by the votes cast by politicians. As I mentioned earlier, there is often a big disconnect between politics and the people, and part of that is because the press does not make the story relevant to the average viewer or reader. Something as simple as interviewing a small business owner about how a minimum wage hike would affect her business would be a good step in the right direction. The bottom line: Make politics relevant to people!

“The Disenchanted, the Disconnected, and the Disappointed” – Maybe more people would be interested in politics if the culture of politics changed. In my lifetime we’ve had the political disasters of Watergate in the 70s; impeachment in 1998; no WMDs in 2004; and Benghazi in 2012, plus many others. All scandals – from both sides of the aisle – do nothing but erode public interest and confidence in the process. No wonder people tune out and so few show up to vote.

What do you think? How would you like to see politics covered for the better? Just click the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

© 2015 Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

Photo courtesy: MCM

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