JULY 23, 2010
The action isn’t ‘Inside the Beltway’ – it’s in the states
he mid-term elections are just over 100 days away, and coalitions and advocacy groups have already taken their cue from candidates and lawmakers – they’re taking their issues out on the campaign trail and into states and congressional districts around the country. Their goal is to reward lawmakers who supported their respective legislative priorities by helping them get re-elected, or punishing them for crossing them by electing their opponents. It’s a high-stakes game, and as many as 35 Congressional seats are in play. During his nearly 19 months in office, President Obama has experienced a mix of legislative successes and disappointments on Capitol Hill. He and the Democrats are entering this election cycle coming off of two significant legislative victories – passage of landmark healthcare legislation and financial services regulatory reform, the latter having been voted on yesterday. For some lawmakers, though, those victories have turned out to be an Achilles heel. Depending on how they voted on these and other key pieces of legislation over the past year-and-a-half (as well as the makeup of the districts they represent), many voters are irate and ready to clean house. To get a sense of the frustration and anger, just recall the high-profile antics that took place during the healthcare town-hall debates last summer and the Tea Party rallies of this past year. That’s why, from this point on until the mid-term election on November 2, the public affairs “play” for each of these groups and their issues will not be in
Washington, DC, but out in the states. Their respective legislative objectives will be won by waging guerilla warfare in a handful of key districts and a number of hotly contested state-level races around the country. The US Chamber of Commerce is gearing up to spend some $75 million between now and November 2 to elect or re-elect candidates who support their probusiness issues. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) plans to spend about $44 million to elect or re-elect lawmakers who support its comparatively different legislative agenda. Savvy corporations, trade associations, and issue advocacy groups will be marshalling all of the tools they have at their disposal in these key states – from grassroots advocacy, issue advertising and regional media outreach, to social media and get-out-the-vote activities, as well as that essential staple of retail politics. Good old face-to-face interaction will also be prevalent, as these organizations will take advantage of town halls, state fairs, and all manner of campaign stops in between to mobilize voters and hold candidates’ feet to the fire. The mid-term elections will be both a referendum on the President’s agenda so far, as well as a key determining factor for his legacy going forward. n Robert Tappan, a former senior official at the US Department of State, is president of The Tappan Group, a public affairs firm based in the Washington, DC area. His column looks at issues advocacy and related public affairs topics. He can be reached at email@example.com.