Tag Archives: politics

Under Discussion: The ‘Usefulness’ of the Iowa Straw Poll

On Sunday, I was a guest on WHO-TV’s “Insiders” program, hosted by Dave Price. I’ve had the opportunity to work with Dave over the years as he’s covered politics in Iowa, and he’s one of the shining stars in Iowa journalism. We covered a number of topics in our exchange, one of which was the current discussion over the fate of the Iowa Straw Poll.

The discussion about the fate of the Straw Poll is getting a lot of attention nationally, as well as inside of Iowa. The Governor thinks the event has “outlived its usefulness.” The Republican Party of Iowa has responded with a surprising level of vitriol to his statements.

I’ve had a lot of personal experience with the Straw Poll, traditionally held in Ames. I led the organizational efforts for Texas Senator Phil Gramm in 1995, who miraculously tied Senator Bob Dole that year. In 1999, I led Steve Forbes’ efforts when he placed second to George W. Bush, who won the Straw Poll and went on to become our 43rd President. In 2007 and 2011, I worked with the Republican Party of Iowa to produce the staging, video, lighting and audio elements of the show inside of Hilton Coliseum.

As someone who has been inside and outside the Ames Straw Poll, I have to agree with the Governor. My comments on “Insiders” are highlighted in the segment WHO Insiders, Part 3.

We’re coming off an election where Republicans were soundly drubbed due in large part to organizational weaknesses. Many, if not most, of the great organizational and tactical strides we made in the 2010 elections were cast aside or forgotten.

The Governor identified one of the white elephants in the room: The fate of the Straw Poll is just one of many issues the GOP has to address as it charts a course forward. The Governor deserves credit for being bold enough to start the process.

(Note: My Democratic counterpart on the show corrected me when I likened the Harkin Steak Fry to the Straw Poll. Its cousin in Democratic circles would be the Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner. There’s a solid reason I’m not asked to opine on Democratic political machinery.)

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Filed under Media Bias, Public Affaris, Reputation Management

Mobilizing Your Base

In politics, candidates and campaigns work feverishly to identify and mobilize supporters. Campaigns hold events, introduce their candidates to voters, send mail and make phone calls, and advertise on television, radio and the web. All of these efforts are to identify and turn out key supporters who can carry their candidates to victory on Election Day.

Iowa has a rich history of political organization, and those efforts aren’t limited to political campaigns alone. Many groups, such as the Iowa Realtors, Iowa Association of Business and Industry and the Iowa State Education Association, not only have active political action committees, they have vibrant organizational efforts among their members, as well. They know their members’ individual voices are magnified once their collective voice is organized.

Other large Iowa employers, such as John Deere, Nationwide Insurance and the Principal Financial Group, also undertake significant educational efforts for their employees. While they don’t have “members,” per se, they do have large numbers of employees. The companies strive to be non-partisan and help their employees meet the candidates and learn the issues. The leadership of these great companies have concluded that if their employees are educated on important public policy matters, they will be better informed voters.

For groups that operate in a highly regulated environment, it makes sense to organize your members. Simply stated, if you and your members don’t look out for your interests, someone else will. And you run the risk of ceding control to those who don’t have your best interests at heart.

When organizing your members, it is wise to consider the following:

1. Stay focused on the issues that affect your membership. Just because you’ve gotten involved in the political arena doesn’t mean you have to, or should, weigh in on subjects far afield from the interests of your membership.

2. It’s politics, and therefore some of your members may be uncomfortable. Political involvement is an inherently personal undertaking. Not all of your members will become engaged, and that’s understandable. Once they see their friends and colleagues engaging, those barriers will break down and they will join the effort.

3. Social media tools are making membership organization much easier, and much more cost efficient. These platforms also allow you to communicate with your membership about important issues in an almost real-time fashion. Take a look at what the Iowa Credit Union League has recently done to motivate its members via YouTube.

4. Your membership relies on you to communicate important information, and they’ve put their trust in you to be honest with them and to have their best interests at heart. Never, ever, violate this principle.

Organizing membership for political engagement takes time and patience. But in the end, your membership collectively, and each member individually, will benefit from these organizational efforts. They will better understand the key issues of the day, and how the actions of decision makers affect their daily lives.

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America’s Second Half

“This country can’t be knocked out with one punch. We get right back up again and when we do, the world’s gonna hear the roar of our engines. Yeah, it’s halftime, America. And our second half is about to begin.”

Clint Eastwood, “Halftime in America”

Those words, uttered by an American icon, cut through the hoopla of the Super Bowl last Sunday. More importantly, they cut right through the political chatter of an election year. The impact of this one advertisement cannot be understated.

An estimated audience of 110 million watched Sunday’s Super Bowl. An additional 4 million viewers have watched the two minute advertisement since Sunday. Immediately, the message was praised from the Left and panned from the Right. The Obama Administration claimed it was vindication for the auto bailout program, which started under President Bush and concluded under President Obama’s watch. The right challenged the ad, focusing on the fact that it was “not even shot in Detroit” and had too heavy of a political message.

Both are missing the point.

I watched the ad on Sunday as it came on in spectacular high definition. Within seconds, I recognized the voice, and the unmistakable gait of Clint Eastwood. I was mesmerized by the visuals, the lack of polluting screen graphics, the use of black and white, color and soft focus, and the solemnity of the subjects. But what really captured me was the message.

I hung on every word. When Eastwood appeared on screen at the close, I knew it would be powerful. He didn’t disappoint.

What Eastwood did in two minutes was to reset years of divisive political discourse in this country. He didn’t endorse the bailout of the auto industry. In fact, he’s on record as having opposed it. He didn’t lay blame for America’s problems with any one political party; he rose above it.

He cut right through the blather, and hit the very emotional nerve of what makes America so unique: we are, in our core, an optimistic people. We face challenges, large and small, with determination and grit. When we’re kicked down in the dirt, we get back up. We pull together, get the job done and then move on. We face our challenges and achieve our goals because we have the optimism to know it’s possible. And we know it’s possible, because we’ve done it for the last 236 years.

Clint Eastwood may not ever earn an award for his two minute commercial during the Super Bowl, but in my humble opinion, he should. He is a man who has a unique grasp of what makes America so unique. He had the courage to step up and say it in his own words, and to deliver them as only he could.

I’m not concerned that Clint Eastwood will be rattled by the debate raging around his commercial. In fact, I’d predict, he’d tell critics to “go ahead, make my day.”

In Sunday’s two minutes, and the two days since, he has spoken directly to hundreds of millions of Americans. More importantly, he has spoken directly to the unique emotion that moves us as Americans.

I’d say he’s made our day.

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