One of the most important things in Public Relations is that you stay out in front of problems. Make sure that you’re the first one to define your brand, the competition’s brand and the debate. When trouble strikes, make sure you’re the one who is out there first explaining things. In general, make sure YOU’RE the one who creates the first impression in the minds of consumers, because it makes it much easier to keep customers on your side.
This is particularly true in politics. And it’s playing out in Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate election.
This week, Republican Pat Toomey, a former Congressman from the Lehigh Valley region of the state and President of the Club for Growth, ran these ads on Philadelphia television defining himself, Democratic nominee Joe Sestak and the debate in terms favorable to him:
There were no ads in response from Sestak. Why not?
This is not the same situation that Sestak had in the primary, where he held off on a TV ad blitz (including one very devastating ad) until the very end and still easily won. Incumbent Arlen Specter was very unpopular already and primary voters were simply waiting for Sestak to give them a reason to vote for him.
Other than Republicans (Toomey narrowly lost the GOP Primary for Senate to Specter in 2004) and his former constituents, most Pennsylvanians don’t know Toomey. And even fewer Pennsylvanians know Sestak, a two-term Congressman from Delaware County. A big part of this race is going to be which candidate can paint the other one as least mainstream in his views. Toomey has beaten Sestak to the punch on this. And it means that Sestak is going to be fighting an uphill battle to redefine both he and his opponent in a favorable manner.
That’s no easy task, especially for a Democratic candidate this year.
Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Tom Carper (D-DE) have been floating a version of health care reform with a public option that allows states to opt out. I like this idea. And it sounds like more conservative Democrats like Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Max Baucus (D-MT) are warming up to it too.
I think there needs to be a public option, if only a limited one, because health insurance companies can’t be trusted to keep premiums (for the uninsured or people having to buy on their own), co-payments and/or deductibles affordable. In many parts of the country, because of state laws or what not, there may be only one health insurance company to choose from, and costs reflect as much. Even people who have health insurance through their employer can be ruined financially from paying deductibles and co-payments required for treatment of cancer and other major diseases or injuries.
This plan would give reps and senators from more conservative constituencies (who distrust anything coming from Obama) political cover, because they can say they’re simply giving the power to their state rather than actually voting for it. If their constituents don’t want it, their state legislature can simply reject it. If their constituents want it and the legislature opts out, then the legislators will feel the heat.
Most importantly, this is better than the other compromises being floated, such as the “trigger” favored by Olympia Snowe (R-ME) or co-ops that would result in a weaker bill that is doomed to failure.
Certainly other things need to be done to reform healthcare. One tactic that I agree with, favored by former Congressman and 2010 Pennsylvania U.S. Senate candidate Pat Toomey, is to allow people to buy health insurance across state lines. As long as you then allow, say, NJ residents who buy PA or DE insurance to then go to doctors in NJ, this too will increase competition and lower costs.