Midterm messages focus on economy

WASHINGTON: The Democrats and Republicans have ramped up communications leading up to the midterm elections on November 2, with the state of the economy taking center stage.

WASHINGTON: The Democrats and Republicans have ramped up communications leading up to the midterm elections on November 2, with the state of the economy taking center stage.

“We are continuing our efforts to contact voters and drive them to the polls,” Doug Heye, communications director for the Republican National Committee, tells PRWeek in an e-mail. “So far this year, our volunteers have contacted more than 34 million voters, more than we did in the entire 2008 cycle, and that's helped put Republicans in a position of strength.”

Party messaging has focused on the economy, he says.

On October 27, for instance, the Republican National Committee posted a video on YouTube, which juxtaposes a figure of the 9.6% unemployment rate with President Barack Obama declaring “we're headed in the right direction.” The video then urges voters to fire Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and vote GOP.

“As we get closer to the elections, jobs and the economy—and the failure of President Obama and Congress to reduce unemployment as promised—remains foremost in voters' minds,” Heye says.

Elected on a platform of change and hope, the Democrats have shifted its message to “change is happening.”  Hari Sevugan, national press secretary for the Democratic National Committee, tells PRWeek “our message is that we can continue to move forward and out of the ditch that we were in or go backward with the same policies that put us in the ditch in the first place. We are using every avenue to make sure voters are aware of that choice.”

In addition to making appearances at events and rallies, President Barack Obama became the first sitting president to be a guest on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, in which he defended his policies and the progress his party has made. “When I say that when we promised during the campaign, change you can believe in, it wasn't change you can believe in by 18 months,” he told Stewart.

He also argued that his fiscal policies have helped prevent a “second great depression.”

Stan Collender, partner at Qorvis Communications, which has no affiliation to either party, says Democratic messaging to the effect that “it could be a lot worse” will not resonate with voters who fear losing their jobs and/or homes.

“Even though the recession started long before Obama was elected, the Democrats find themselves in a position to defend what's happened [with the economy],” Collender said. “And one of the key things in any communications campaign is if you're explaining, you're losing.”

He added the Democrats should have kept reminding voters from the start

“it was the Republicans who got us in this mess and you can't trust them to get us out of it.” But since Obama campaigned on bipartisanship, attacking the Republicans shortly after getting into office may have been tough to do,” concedes Collender.

Given the difficult economy and what's at stake, Lane Bailey, president of global public affairs at GolinHarris, says it's not surprising there's been so much mudslinging in the local races.

“Negative ads—as most political consultants will tell you—are always effective,” Bailey says. “People just want someone to send to Washington who will turn the economy around and who hasn't been part of the inaction in Washington on solving the problem. So when an incumbent is trying to win…they almost always have to paint their non-Washington ‘inexperienced' opponent as negatively as possible in order to make people fear the inexperience more than they fear experience.”

Polling data suggests such tactics won't be enough to prevent the Republicans from winning control of the House, if not the Senate. “I think the Democrats underestimated the very real fear out there that the American dream may never be the same,” says Bailey.

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