In age of ‘op­tics,’ how and where a can­di­date speaks as im­por­tant as what is said

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY SETH MCLAUGH­LIN

When choos­ing where to be­come the first ma­jor pres­i­den­tial can­di­date to an­nounce his cam­paign this year, Sen. Ted Cruz se­lected Lib­erty Uni­ver­sity — send­ing clear sig­nals to both Chris­tian GOP pri­mary vot­ers and his po­ten­tial ri­vals that the Texan plans to zero in on so­cial and re­li­gious con­ser­va­tives.

Ex­pect oth­ers to pick their own sym­bolic lo­ca­tions as the cam­paign en­ters the be­gin­ning of the scripted pe­riod, when what con­sul­tants and talk­ing heads call “op­tics” be­comes para­mount, and when, how and where a can­di­date speaks can be even more im­por­tant than what is ac­tu­ally said.

“Can­di­dates will strate­gi­cally se­lect lo­ca­tions that ar­tic­u­late the themes of the cam­paign and re­in­force the is­sues and ar­gu­ments that will serve as their ra­tio­nale for run­ning,” said Daniel Schill, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor in the School of Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Stud­ies at James Madi­son Uni­ver­sity.

Mr. Schill, au­thor of “Stage­craft and State­craft: Ad­vance and Me­dia Events in Po­lit­i­cal Com­mu­ni­ca­tion,” said can­di­dates usu­ally kick off their can­di­da­cies in places that hold per­sonal or sym­bolic mean­ing — or what he called “sa­cred sites.” They are also look­ing for spots that can help gar­ner a lot of me­dia at­ten­tion or a large au­di­ence and help them drive home their cam­paign mes­sage.

Sen. Marco Ru­bio, the son of Cuban im­mi­grants, was sched­uled this week to launch his cam­paign at Miami’s Free­dom Tower, which was the site where many Cubans were first pro­cessed by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment and al­lowed into the U.S. — the fi­nal chap­ter in their es­cape from Fidel Cas­tro’s com­mu­nist regime.

The Florida Repub­li­can has milked his an­tic­i­pated en­trance into the race, sched­uled for this Mon­day, mak­ing an an­nounce­ment on Fox News that he will be mak­ing an­other about his po­lit­i­cal fu­ture in a cou­ple of weeks. Mr. Ru­bio waited an­other few days be­fore con­firm­ing last week that he was hold­ing the event at Free­dom Tower.

“To me, it’s a place that’s sym­bolic of the prom­ise of Amer­ica,” Mr. Ru­bio told the Miami Her­ald.

Not ev­ery­one goes big on the lo­ca­tion. Sen. Rand Paul, who launched his cam­paign last week at the Galt House Ho­tel in Louisville, the big­gest ho­tel in the city and the of­fi­cial board­ing house of the Ken­tucky Derby, chose a place that keeps him on his home turf but doesn’t reek of sym­bol­ism — though it gave him a con­ve­nient jump­ing-off point for a five-state an­nounce­ment tour.

Still to come for all the can­di­dates are count­less speeches de­liv­ered from atop hay bails, hu­mid high school gyms, pizza par­lors and cramped living rooms.

But the kick­off is unique, and many can­di­dates try to turn it into a ma­jor state­ment.

Then-Sen. Barack Obama opened his 2008 pres­i­den­tial run at the Old State Capitol in Spring­field, Illi­nois, fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of Pres­i­dent Abra­ham Lin­coln.

“This lo­ca­tion ref­er­enced Obama’s eight years in the Illi­nois leg­is­la­ture, linked his can­di­dacy to Lin­coln — who Obama quoted fre­quently in his re­marks — and re­in­forced Obama’s cam­paign theme of unit­ing the coun­try as Lin­coln had done,” Mr. Schill said.

Some can­di­dates get mul­ti­ple shots at the an­nounce­ment.

For­mer Mas­sachusetts Gov. Mitt Rom­ney en­tered the 2008 race at the Henry Ford Mu­seum in Dear­born, Michi­gan, sport­ing a suit and tie and point­ing to his record as a busi­ness­man and manager. Four years later he an­nounced his sec­ond bid from a fam­ily farm in New Hamp­shire, with jeans and an un­but­toned shirt, as he sought to por­tray him­self as a com­mon-sense con­ser­va­tive.

“For Rom­ney in 2008, we wanted to stress in­no­va­tion and change in a state that was im­por­tant to the can­di­date’s bi­og­ra­phy, so we chose the Henry Ford Mu­seum in the state where Mitt was born and his dad was gover­nor,” said Eric Fehrn­strom, a se­nior ad­viser to Mr. Rom­ney. “In 2012 we were more fo­cused on the geog­ra­phy of the race. We didn’t ex­pect to win Iowa, so New Hamp­shire be­came key to our chances of win­ning the nom­i­na­tion. We planned to spend a lot of time there, and we did, start­ing on an­nounce­ment day.”

In 2000 and 2008, Sen. John McCain of Ari­zona an­nounced his pres­i­den­tial can­di­da­cies from New Hamp­shire, home to the first-in-the-na­tion pri­mary. Mr. McCain won the state in both nom­i­na­tion con­tests.

“He knew that was his best shot to break through, and he wanted to send a mes­sage that he con­sid­ered it his most im­por­tant early state,” said Stephen Duprey, who ran Mr. McCain’s New Hamp­shire op­er­a­tion. “It worked. Peo­ple in New Hamp­shire like it when a can­di­date says to them that their state is so im­por­tant, they want to an­nounce here and in­tend to cam­paign like heck here.”

South Carolina’s an­other popular launch lo­ca­tion, with thenTexas Gov. Rick Perry choos­ing it in 2012 and then-Sen. John F. Kerry us­ing it in 2004, de­liv­er­ing his speech with the USS York­town as back­drop and Viet­nam vet­er­ans sur­round­ing him on­stage.

Mr. Kerry went on to win the nom­i­na­tion but, in a twist of irony, lost the gen­eral elec­tion af­ter com­ing un­der attack from a group of vet­er­ans called the Swift Boat Vet­er­ans for Truth.

Then-Rep. Michelle Bach­mann chose Water­loo, Iowa, to an­nounce in 2012, pick­ing her birth­place in the key first cau­cus state to try to claim home­town hero sta­tus.

But she stepped on her own mes­sage when she claimed John Wayne as an­other well-known lo­cal. While the leg­endary West­ern and war films ac­tor wasn’t born there, the se­rial killer John Wayne Gacy had in fact lived in the town with his wife as new­ly­weds.

She placed sixth in the Iowa cau­cuses, though she did man­age to win the Ames straw poll much ear­lier.

Mr. Schull noted that lots of can­di­dates also re­turned to their for­mer el­e­men­tary or high schools to make an­nounce­ments.

Oth­ers have been more un­ortho­dox, in­clud­ing for­mer Sen. Mike Gravel of Alaska, who rode the Wash­ing­ton, D.C., sub­way to the Na­tional Press Club, where he en­tered the 2008 Demo­cratic pri­mary race.

He also re­leased a mem­o­rable YouTube video in which he qui­etly stared into the cam­era for more than a minute be­fore walk­ing to a nearly rock, pick­ing it up, and non­cha­lantly shot-putting it into a pond. Then he turned and mo­seyed off as “gravel2008.us” popped up on the screen.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Sen. Ted Cruz com­menced his GOP pres­i­den­tial cam­paign at Vir­ginia’s Lib­erty Uni­ver­sity, re­in­forc­ing the im­por­tance of evan­gel­i­cal vot­ers to him.

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