Editor's note: Vanguard President and CEO TJ Bucholz joins a panel of political pundits to discuss Gov. Rick Snyder's list of initiatives for 2018.
Q. Was it a good idea for Gov. Snyder to use last week to promote his initiatives on K-12 school funding, water infrastructure, Asian Carp, etc. -- while the Nassar case was still dominating the attention of the news media, or would he have been better advised to wait a week or two?
T.J. BUCHOLZ, of Vanguard Public Affairs, said timing may be everything in politics but there's no guarantee that the governor's initiative would have attracted more attention this week, next week or the week after that.
“It's an old saying, but a good one: Politics is all about timing,” Bucholz said. “As the owner of a public affairs company, I would say it's been difficult to try to get potential news to resonate lately, as many members of the media have been laser-focused on the Nassar case broadly. That said, I don't think the worst is over for MSU and USA Gymnastics and they will remain in the headlines for at least a few more news cycles, especially if officials keep fumbling the ball.”
“From a release perspective, you don't want to overthink it like the kid on the top of the high dive when deciding to make an announcement. In any case, and even with the best of circumstances, you have to work hard to solicit coverage regardless of what is going on around you,” Bucholz continued. “I don't particularly understand why Rick Snyder believes that now is the time to promote initiatives on water and education spending. Where was this thinking years ago when it could have mattered? I think he's making an attempt here at reputation building, but it's probably too late to erase some of the stains that will always dog the legacy of his administration.”
Q. Gubernatorial hopeful Attorney General Bill SCHUETTE and U.S. Senate candidate John JAMES are now running negative ads against their GOP primary opponents. Does it make sense to "go negative" at this early stage of their campaigns?
“August is several months away but from a political perspective, Attorney General Schuette and John James are both insulating themselves against criticism by using advertising to define their opponents,” Bucholz said. “Then again, we've had candidates running for statewide office who have already been running for a year, yet their name ID among voters hasn't grown as much as they would want, I'm sure. It's always the hope that this tactic forces your opponent to focus more on defending attacks rather than going on offense against you. In primaries, you always relish the opportunity to kill your opponent's campaign in the cradle.”
“I've been doing political campaigns since 1996 and it seems as if the electoral process itself starts earlier each cycle,” Bucholz added. “With the advent of social media, politics has become increasingly divisive and ugly, which isn't healthy in the long term for our democracy as a whole.”
Q. Will the questions surrounding the eligibility of Abdul EL-SAYED to run for governor, due to his voter registration history, eliminate what chances he might have otherwise had in the race?
Bucholz, who pointed out that Shri THANEDAR has previously been a client of his, said the issue is pressing on sore spots among Democrats and Democrat-leaning voters who are distrustful of the party establishment, but El-Sayed might not reap the benefits of that.
“Certainly, Abdul has to address this issue broadly, as even MDP Chair Brandon DILLON has asked the campaign to seek a ruling,” Bucholz said. “If you don't settle the issue in the minds of primary voters, support you previously had will slip away and donors will hesitate to give you resources if they believe you're going to be out of the race anyway. I think the Bernie Sanders/Revolution crowd is digging their heels in for Abdul and see this issue as a personal affront from the Democratic establishment who -- in their view and probably correctly -- attempt to minimize them at every turn.”
“I also believe the campaign's hard-edged response may have really turned off voters looking for an electoral alternative,” Bucholz added. “In other words, it's not so much the crime as the cover-up - with over-the-top responses from the Abdul camp about voting in the 2016 primary; the story about Abdul facing long voting lines in Detroit when he allegedly attempted to cast a vote for Sanders are now acknowledged as false - never a good electoral strategy in hindsight. In my opinion, Abdul's chances to be the nominee went from slim to none, but that creates a potentially giant vacuum to be filled by an alternative candidate if he is not allowed on the ballot.”
Q. At this point in time, is the value of running political ads during the Super Bowl overrated?
According to Bucholz, it can be effective, but it needs to be done right.
“I think asking if there is value for your campaign buying time during the Super Bowl depends on what your goal is, and - more importantly - if you have the resources that make a spend during the game worthwhile,” Bucholz said. “For some candidates running for statewide elected office right now, even a spend of $150,000 cuts deeply into their cash on hand coffers, and money is political currency. If your objective is just to raise your name ID with voters and get people talking about you, then it probably makes sense to purchase time as long as you can justify it. A cash advantage in a primary can be exploited with the savvy media strategy and - critically - the right commercial.”
“My first rule of political consulting is `Know Your Audience,'” Bucholz added. “So, for a potential Super Bowl ad, it's important to keep the mood light and use some levity to deliver one thought to the audience - an audience who is engaged in other activities during the game. While certainly a Super Bowl ad is a shotgun approach to media messaging, it can be an effective tool given the right circumstances.”
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