Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Watch States’ Voter Issues for 2012 National Message Strategy

Photo Credit - Flickr Common

With the state 2011 elections results now known and the 2012 presidential election only a year away, 2012 campaigns are watching state’s activity for proven winning and losing message strategies.

The 2011 state initiatives were hard fought with millions spent in campaign ads to influence voters. State parties also fought to gain or retain state house control. Both parties had big wins and big losses. Most important, the voters got informed and involved, and they had their say.

Kentucky retained a Democrat Governor with an easy re-election of Steve Beshear. The Mississippi Governor seat remains in the GOP’s hands with Phil Bryant replacing term-limited-out Haley Barbour.

Liz Mathis’ Iowa senate win retains the slight Democrat control with a 26-24 split. Virginia broke a Democrat majority in the state senate by gaining seats to create a 20-20 split that puts GOP Lt. Governor Bill Bolling in position to cast a vote to break any senate tie votes. Democrats had legislative losses in Tennessee.

Redistricting may also hold some influence as shown in the New Jersey Democrats picking up an assembly seat described by the New York Times as “in a district that was redrawn to exclude the incumbent’s home.”

The most effective election message strategy was seen in the 60%-40% vote on Ohio’s Issue 2 which turned back what many saw as the GOP’s overreach on curbing collective bargaining rights for public unions. A public union coalition based $30 million campaign spit in the face of the 2010 Tea Party message of more fiscal government policies being for working people.

Vice President Biden and White House Press Secretary Jim Carney immediately congratulated the voters of Ohio on the no vote victory on Issue 2. They ignored the Ohio voter message of the yes vote on Issue 3. Issue 3 bans the individual mandate of President Obama’s signature health care reform legislation.

Republicans hoping to keep the 2012 election focus on economic issues, and Democrats hoping to diffuse this focus with abortion rights issues may look to the resounding defeat of Mississippi’s personhood initiative hoping to define life as beginning at conception. It is a divisive issue that will get Democrats to the polls in 2012.

A recent Gallop poll on key swing states (Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin) reflects “…Republicans in these states are more enthusiastic about voting than are Democrats.”

Look for Democrats to interject social issues like retaining pro-choice more into campaign message strategy. Yet, they may need to be careful on social issues that also have a direct economic impact on Americans like the rising cost in state government budgets for illegal immigration services or on insurance premiums and medical costs under the Obama health care reform law.

Remember, 28 states are suing the federal government over the health care law. It is expected the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the case in 2012.

Resolving illegal immigration resonates with the majority of Americans, yet a GOP overreach will not do them any favors in most states including the ground zero state of Arizona. This was brought home by Arizona SB 170 author Arizona State Senate President Russell Pearse losing a recall election and being replaced by more moderate Republican Jerry Lewis.

Many state legislatures and voters are championing laws requiring photo ID to vote. In the elections held on November 8, Mississippi voters passed a voter ID law, and Maine voters restored same day registration and vote taken away by state legislators. Look for continued state activity on voter laws in general.

Democrats need to be careful in their alignment with the Occupy Wall Street protestors as Republicans have seen some push back themselves on alignment with the fiscal austerity goals of Tea Party protestors. Should lawlessness, violence, and outrageous city costs increase associated with OWS, there could be a voting backlash for Democrats.

While some Democrats stoke the fires of class warfare and higher taxes on the rich, voters are in no mood for more taxes in general as the solution to our current fiscal crisis as expressed in Colorado voters rejecting tax hikes to help balance the budget deficit in that state.

There are a few political websites to see state-by-state activity. TheStateColumn.com is one to watch and support.

Caught in the trend, that began in 2008, of college graduates having a very hard time finding jobs in their field of study, Kramer Phillips created his own opportunity by founding TheStateColumn.com in 2010.

He explains, “Following my graduation from Whitman College in May of 2008, I moved to D.C. in an attempt to find a job. After interviewing for a number of positions on Capitol Hill, I eventually moved backed to Seattle and spent the year teaching myself how to code and create websites.”

He continues, “We tested a number of versions of the site during 2010, eventually settling on the current version. The State Column was officially launched in January 2011 with a goal of providing political coverage of all 50 states as well as national politics. Ross Cronkrite came on in May 2011 and is the Managing Editor.”

“Since then, the website has grown by 30-50% each month, and readership will total one million monthly visitors by the end of the year. Key to the site’s continued growth from the day the site went live has been our use of social media, which is increasingly where people are going to get their political news.”

“Since launching the site in January, we have seen traffic increase from 100,000 monthly readers to 600,000 monthly readers. We expect to reach 1 million monthly readers by the end of November, and we are currently building our team of reporters in an effort to expand coverage of national and state politics.”

Kramer Phillips, TheStateColumn.com Founder and Editor-In-Chief, shares his insight:

BKH: What were the needs you hope to satisfy with TheStateColumn.com?

KP: From the get-go, the goal has been to increase focus on state-level politics and to provide a resource for political junkies as well as the casual follower of politics, in every state in the country. State politics are the breeding ground for national political developments, though the media doesn’t always do a good job of paying enough attention to state politics.

BKH: What are the demographics of your readers?

KP: The vast majority of our more than one million readers a month come from the United States, and they span every age and political affiliation. Many of them are working on Capitol Hill and in statehouses across the country.

BKH: Do you see redistricting significantly affecting the 2012 elections?

KP: Redistricting will absolutely affect the 2012 elections at the local level. You can see that happening in Washington, Arizona and Ohio. Depending on what party is shaping the redistricting process, some incumbents will essentially lose their previously safe district, while other districts will be made safer for the incumbent.

And in Washington, for example, you see a district being added¸ but because its final lines haven’t been determined, so the primary field is in this kind of holding pattern as they wait to see how the district will look.

BKH: Which states have had the most political activity in 2011?

KP: It’s tough to say what state had the ‘most’ activity and how you quantify that, but there’s no doubt that the political developments in states like Wisconsin, Ohio, New York, and Mississippi over the last year are driving much of the national debate on key issues that will likely play an important in the 2012 presidential election.

Take Wisconsin, for example, where the battle over collective bargaining rights has given new life to the national debate over the rights of workers. There’s no doubt labor is more energized at the national level because of what happened in Madison.

And in New York, the vote to allow same-sex couples to marry has created a renewed push for similar laws across in other states, and also at the federal level.

BKH: What do you see being the hottest political issues in the 2012 elections watching state activity?

KP: I think there are three big issues. The first of course is the economy and jobs. But immigration and abortion are also going to be huge issues in the 2012 cycle.

BKH: Which states are leading the way for reform on these issues with state ballot initiatives?

KP: Mississippi is leading the way with its ballot issue on abortion, which is a “personhood” amendment that would designate a fertilized egg as a person, thus making abortion illegal which failed in the election November 8.

Colorado tried to pass a tax increase on income and sales tax, which failed, that would have provided additional funds for education. For immigration, Alabama and Arizona are leading the way.

BKH: The GOP presidential candidate beats President Obama in 12 key swing states on jobs and the deficit according to a November 4, 2011 USAToday/Gallop poll. Do you predict this holding up in 2012 watching state political news?

KP: It is just really tough to predict a year out from the election. There are so many factors in play, and so much can change. A few months of improving economic news could radically change the mood around jobs and the deficit among voters in the key swing states.

What makes it even harder to predict is that economic forecasts are notoriously poor. We just don’t know how things are going to look when people go to the polls in a year. But it’s clear that if the economy does not show at least some improvement, the Democrats are in trouble.

BKH: Which states do you predict will go from red in 2008 to blue in 2012?

KP: I really don’t see any states going that direction. It’s clear the Democrats’ challenge is actually to keep the states blue in 2012 that were blue in 2008.

BKH: Do you see activity to predict any states going from blue in 2008 to red in 2012?

KP: I can see a scenario in which North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania all go red in 2012. These states are where unemployment remains high, and the economy is the major issue. This is eroding the President’s support among independents and blue-collar workers, which were keys in helping him, win these states in 2008.

BKH: States are the breeding ground for politicians coming up to the national level. Which state and local politicians do you predict to rise to the national level by the 2016 election cycle?

KP: It’s always hard to predict what local and state politicians have the promise and potential to rise to the national level. If I could do that consistently, then I’d probably have to give up my day job at The State Column and get into political consulting.

That said, I think three people we need to watch on a possible national stage are Marco Rubio, a first-term Republican Senator from Florida; Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey who was being courted by some in the GOP circles for a White House run; and Bob McDonnell, the Republican governor of Virginia.

BKH: Thank you Kramer. Follow TheStateColumn.com on Twitter and Facebook.

Even with all of the distraction strategy and campaign nastiness we are all expecting with the 2012 election, most believe it ultimately will come down to the state of the U.S. economic conditions over the next year for the majority of voters.

Some social issues will have an impact in each state, but whether or not either party presents solutions to increased employment opportunity, more responsible spending, and more accountable government to the people will decide the voters’ selection reward.

Most voters want balanced budgets at all government levels. They want an environment for healthy GDP growth and job creation. The 2010 election has already shown once more fiscal responsibility that leads to more austere government expenditures have been voted in, when the reality hits the voter directly, they get angry.

Unlike the federal government, state and local government can not digitize money to bridge their budget shortfalls. Many states and cities will no longer be able to kick the can down the road as easily in 2012 as in past years.

Watch the state activity, especially the cash-strapped swing states, and the reactions of the citizens to budget deficit resolutions. These reactions will direct the message strategy as we move into the 2012 national election showdown.

Follow Brenda Krueger Huffman on Twitter and Facebook.

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