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Media Minefield: Gov. Perry offers media & messaging lessons even democrats can learn from

Over the weekend, Iowa cornered the market for the most politicians, journalists and kissed babies per capita.

The last time I watched a presidential election from a couch and not a newsroom was 1992. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve loved having a front row seat for history, but it is so refreshing to write about the 2012 presidential campaign without scrubbing bias and cutting content to fit into a news story. So here goes….

On the day of the straw poll as the Minnesota Twins (Governor Pawlenty and Congresswoman Bachmann) were rallying supporters and hoping all republican eyes would be on Iowa, headlines were being made in South Carolina! CNN and FOX News carried Governor Rick Perry’s entire announcement, that he was entering the crowded GOP Presidential field, live. When it was over, FOX News took a commercial break and less than five minutes later, the news alert graphics obnoxiously dominated the screen. What was the breaking news? The Iowa straw poll officially began.

Sure, Perry’s move may have ticked off a few fickle Iowans who watch their corn crops as diligently as they adhere to the unofficial political rule that “straw poll Saturday” is somehow sacred – reserved for the candidates who invested months and major money in the state. I don’t buy it. I think Perry deserves props for shifting the media’s attention away from Iowa. Because of the timing of his presidential bid, reports on the evening news, websites and Sunday newspapers of the Iowa straw poll also included Perry’s announcement. Brilliant. He succeeded in getting his name and message in the mainstream media on a day when the political news event was in Iowa. He wasn’t in the state and his name wasn’t on the ballot.

Disclaimer: I am not commenting about the rightness or wrongness of Perry’s politics only his ability to effectively communicate his message. He threw his hat (likely a Stetson) into to the ring with a goal, an agenda and a carefully crafted message.

Generally speaking, Republicans are primarily comprised of fiscal conservatives, social conservatives or military conservatives. There is also the critical Evangelical Christian voting block. From what I’ve read, none of the current candidates make all groups happy so Perry’s speech played to his candidates’ perceived weaknesses. He didn’t mention them by name. (Interesting note: besides his family, the only people Perry did mention by name were Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.)

How do get certain groups of people or types of people to resonate with your message? You use words they can relate to. My guess is that a right to life voter would be as thrilled with what Perry said as a person who votes based on the promises of a candidates to increase our military might. At this point in the process, it’s crucial to appeal to the masses.

Fiscal conservatives heard Perry say words like thrift, toil, sweat, reform, debt and economic disaster.

Social conservatives heard Perry say words like right to life and family. Interesting that he didn’t directly delve into the marriage debate.

Voters who are focused on the military and national security likely resonated with Perry’s personal military service and the moment of silence he asked everyone to take for the Navy Seals who were recently killed. He also promised to strongly deal with America’s enemies.

Evangelical Christians were likely impressed with Perry’s references to God, faith and blessings. Also interesting that when someone shouted a phrase of praise to him, Perry responded with “Amen brother.” A phrase many Evangelical Christians are accustomed to hearing in church.

So combine it all together and you get Perry’s message loud and clear: I am the complete conservative package.

A message is only effective if it gets the desired outcome. Perry’s message was well received and therefore successful. Perry received hundreds of write-in votes and he’d only been in the race for minutes! He was the kind of candidate with the kind of message some voters had been waiting for.

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Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 08/15/2011 - 12:59 pm.

    “Generally speaking, Republicans are primarily comprised of fiscal conservatives, social conservatives or military conservatives.”

    I don’t mean to split hairs, Kristi, but the three wings of the republican party are the fiscal conservatives, the social conservatives and the libertarians. The “military” conservatives and Evangelicals you refer to are generally considered a part of the social conservatives because they represent “traditional” values. Same as the 2nd Amendment people. It used to be a candidate wouldn’t have a chance at the presidency without military service and church membership. The Clintons changed all that.

    Rick Perry will get the nomination because he’s a full-spectrum conservative with military service and ten years of successful executive experience who will appeal to all conservative voters.

    The addition of Florida’s Mario Rubio to the ticket will seal Obama’s fate.

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