“What’s the downside of running unopposed?”

Dear Dr. Bob,
It looks like I won’t have any serious opposition during my primary election. That’s obviously good because it is one less thing to worry about and suck money away from the general election. But it also seems to be not so good because the other side has a huge field of candidates and looks like that’s about all the media seems interested in. I’m afraid that my campaign will just be ignored. Should I be concerned?
What can I do?
Being Ignored

Dear Ignored,
I never advocate concern…it is more a way of losing sleep than getting anything accomplished. So chill out and lets consider what you can do about the situation.
First off, having the other side bash each other is a gift. If you don’t believe me…although you should…just ask David Axelrod or, better yet, Mitt Romney. With any luck your eventual opponent will emerge from his/her primary beaten up pretty well after being clobbered by all manner of opposition research material. Assuming you are part of the great middle-left, your opponent will have had to swing way-the-frack over to the extreme right to make nice-nice with the “tea party” faction of their side. This is a good thing.

Secondly, you do not want to interrupt their circular firing squad with a big target on your back over something real or imagined or made-up. So chasing after press just to stay in the game makes no sense. That said, staying top of mind…at least in contrast to the looney tune crowd on the right does make some sense. But it must be done with near 100% accuracy — the last thing you want to do is give the boys on the right something around which they can unite — as in you.

So I recommend focusing on a few sure thing targets that you know will get bipartisan popular support. My favorite is the “Minimum Wage”. In 2006 a progressive coalition even ran the Minimum Wage as a ballot initiative and clobbered the McOpposition with bi-partisan support. This issue tests off the charts with support from Democrats, Republicans and Independents. In other words, it’s pretty much a no brainer. Given Arizona’s step forward in 2006, going back to the well for another round of minimum wage increases should be tested to see if it still holds up. But its also worth testing some new messaging like “A Living Minimum Wage.” My bet is that it tests in the 60-70% range.

But the real beauty is that the “tea party” folks hate it — fear of their cheeseburgers costing a nickel more —  and the GOP candidates are pretty much doing whatever their vocal far right minority tells them to do if they plan on winning their primary election. Which puts them squarely on the wrong side of the issue.

But minimum wage is just one of several “economic populist” ideas worth considering to keep in the news cycle but, more critically, to be the centrist, not crazy alternative to whatever the Republicans are doing.

Consider this: capping how much interest can be charged to people by their credit card company(s). A run has been made attacking the “payday loan” racket and there’s been some level of success — you may have noticed how “Title Loan” places have popped up to replace “Payday Loan” shops. But the core of the problem is that there is no limit on how much interest Joe and Jane are going to be charged on their credit card balance.

But there used to be! Its called the “usury” law and it was repealed during the Camelot years under Gov. Fife “Bill Clinton pardoned me” Symington. And for a specific reason: attracting all those great credit card call center jobs! Yeah, right.

That lasted a few years and then, poof! all gone.

But Arizona was left with no protection against interest rates so high that just thinking of them gives me a nose bleed and they continue through to today.

Like all matters of “economic populism” the folks making a killing charging those disgusting interest rates, like banks, are going to scream bloody murder and you probably won’t be able to count on them to show at your University Club fundraiser. But they weren’t going to show anyway. So no great loss.

Setting a cap on consumer interest rates at, say, the prime rate plus 3% seems like a good starting point to me.

Here’s another: The cost of higher education and student loan burdens. This one is a home run if it is handled properly.

You know the stories about how college students are being handed a debt of $25,000 or more along with their diplomas. This one is tricky when you’re dealing with state government. At the federal level they have a lot of tools available ranging from lowering interest rates on student loans to forgiving loans when graduating students do civic work for two years including the military.

At the state level you have to be a bit more restrained…but not silenced. Proposals have been floated to allow Arizona’s community colleges to offer 4 year degrees. Seems to make sense since they are teaching oriented, not carrying the heavy lifts of big-time research universities. After all, just how many nuclear physicists does Arizona need?

The freshman year at most community colleges is already functioning as a 13th year of school…adding 3 more seems to make sense. Of course, as with everything else, there will be opponents. Of course there will. But voters who can’t afford to send their kids to college or students who would prefer having an actual professor in the classroom as opposed to a grad assistant would be giddy.

And you can always point to the Arizona Constitution that says public schools — including colleges and universities– should be as free as possible. That one will fry the “constitutionalists” who hang out with the “tea party” types.

So…there are things that your campaign can do and say while the opponents are trying to make nice-nice with their far right. Just be sure to time your announcement of a proposal to fill in a time warp when the Republicans are busy licking their wounds and getting ready for their next food fight.

One final thought: If you don’t have a home run, as with economic populism, just keep traveling around meeting folks and not getting shot. There will be a temptation to shoot at whatever insanity is coming from the GOP primary, but resist. The idea is to be sane alternative. not another crazy player.

Good luck!




About Bob Grossfeld

Robert "Bob" Grossfeld has 30 years of experience as an award-winning, political strategist and media consultant. He has twice served as Senior Advisor to Members of Congress, Special Assistant to the Arizona State Senate Majority Leader, and Communications Director at the Arizona Department of Education as well as the Arizona AFL-CIO. He also launched and was the Publisher of the groundbreaking online political paper, 'The Arizona Guardian." He has produced award-winning media campaigns and strategies for ballot measures, candidates for Congress, Legislature, municipal offices, and Native American Tribes. Bob is President of POLITICARE and Founder of The Media Guys
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