Thinkpiece: Whoever wins, a divided Congress will need grassroots, not lobbying

What an exciting time in American politics. When else can you walk down the street and hear regular people discussing the popular vote versus the Electoral College? This situation is really helping to bring home the fact that every vote can make a difference.

What an exciting time in American politics. When else can you walk down the street and hear regular people discussing the popular vote versus the Electoral College? This situation is really helping to bring home the fact that every vote can make a difference.

What an exciting time in American politics. When else can you walk down the street and hear regular people discussing the popular vote versus the Electoral College? This situation is really helping to bring home the fact that every vote can make a difference.

But no matter what happens in the courts in coming weeks, the next president of the United States will have been elected by a very, very slim margin.

There has been no mandate, and each side will feel that the election was unjustly gained or lost. On top of that, Congress is in a deadlock. The Senate is almost perfectly balanced between Democrats and Republicans, and the House is divided only by a handful of votes. Unless there is a high degree of cooperation, nothing will get done. No matter who comes out ahead in Florida, negotiating this minefield will be the job of the newly elected president, and it won't be an easy task.

In a turbulent transition period and possibly ineffective new administration, companies both inside and outside the beltway need to stay alert to the changing political environment and develop smart strategies for government relations and business practices.

Knowing a few key players in Washington will not be enough, and neither will traditional lobbying. To drive action, companies will need to develop strong grassroots support, and work with allies and coalitions. Unless members of Congress know that an issue is supported by a broad bipartisan constituency, they'll be hesitant to get involved.

And if Congress remains deadlocked on politically popular topics, look for state governments to start acting in fields such as pharmaceutical pricing and telecommunications regulation. Already a number of states are preparing to pass price controls on drugs used heavily by the elderly.

This kind of state activity will increase if Congress cannot act on the issues raised in the recent campaign.

Early in 2001, the incoming president will present his budget. How he puts together this budget will showcase the central issues and priorities of the administration. One area requiring the agreement of Congress and the President is annual appropriation bills, which may present an opportunity for clients and their issues.

As former Senate minority leader Everett Dirksen liked to say, 'The only thing that doesn't change about Washington is change itself.' In this unpredictable but exciting atmosphere, the challenge for PR and issue management is to learn from the past while looking into the future.



- Peter Robinson is senior vice president, corporate global practice at Ketchum in Washington.



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