It may be “the economy stupid” but the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows that despite Republicans controlling the White House and Congress, they “didn’t have a clear advantage among voters who said the economy was the most important or a very important issue.”

In fact, the survey is “a sign that many voters are looking for a check on Mr. Trump” with more than half “less likely to vote for a candidate who sticks with the president on policy issues more than 90% of the time.”

Besides, as Emory University scholar Alan Abramowitz sees it, a humming economy and support for the party in power do not always correlate. (

Consider, though, the president had not lost the loyalty of laid-off nail plant workers in Poplar Bluff, Missouri affected by tariffs on Mexican steel.  But while early payments for farmers hurt by tariffs kick in before the election, corn growers apparently get only a penny on the bushel. 

Then, there’s the “enthusiasm gap” which elections expert Amy Walter sees as a possible preview of that cautiously-predicted “blue wave” (Wall Street Journal, “Is Trump Creating New Republicans?” September 21, 2018). Yes, Republicans are about as charged up now as they were in the 2010 Tea Party surge, and the party’s 47% national favorability rating is as high as it has been in seven years.  A review of polling on races from California to Florida suggest that in terms of support level and turnout, Latino voters are no sure bet to help Dems.

But Nate Silver looks at special elections during the Trump reign as a barometer of “the sort of turnout one might expect in this year’s midterms.” It led one respected political handicapper to suggest an “herbal tea party” this cycle.

And while tea is unlikely to be featured at any collegiate football tailgates this fall – or any fall for that matter –sip on this with your Jack and Coke:  Senator Mike Espy?  Yeah, yeah, even the Cook Political Report has both Mississippi senate seats in decidedly Republican columns.  But there’s a possible path for the former Clinton cabinet secretary in a runoff the Tuesday after Thanksgiving with Sen. Hyde-Smith in which the Chris McDaniel anti-Republican establishment stays home or delivers a revenge vote for the Democrat.

That doesn’t leave much time to digest turkey and pumpkin pie if flesh needs to be pressed.  And what might draw some national party names to the Magnolia State that holiday weekend? The Ole’ Miss-Mississippi State showdown is Black Friday.  At this writing both teams have identical 3-1 records.    

Will the 2020 Electorate Really Look Different Than 2016?

TIME recently published an article with the headline: “The America That Votes in 2020 Will Look Radically Different Than it Did in 2016”. Note the use of “Will”. This is not only inaccurate, but premature as well. It all depends on WHO votes. While the eligible electorate may be quite different than the 2016 elections, who is registered and who votes depends on who is sufficiently motivated. We can’t be sure who will be motivated in 12 months when early voting starts, and we certainly won’t know until we see who the Democratic Nominee will be.   

Polls are showing a heightened interest in the election as well as more of an intention to vote than at this time in other cycles. However, we cannot be sure that this polling is accurate or that the interest will sustain itself through election day.  There are claims that candidates such as Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders will hold that interest and will turn out vast crowds of new, first-time voters, ostensibly some of the same new voters discussed above. I am suspicious of such forecasts. 

Charlie Cook, editor and publisher of The Cook Political Report and a columnist for the National Journal, noted that “this is widely, almost universally likely to be the largest voter turnout since 1980 and perhaps our lifetime.” However, Charlie has also said that “when voter turnout is extremely high, the higher the turnout the more the electorate simply looks like all registered voters.” It remains to be seen if different media consumption patterns in the last five years as compared to the previous 50 will change that paradigm.  

I do applaud the attention the story gives to states, specifically Texas and North Carolina. We elect presidents through the Electoral College, so it’s important to recognize it is a state-by-state battle.  In Texas, for example, there has been a 2% increase in eligible Hispanic voters from 2016 to 2020. This may not seem worthy of notoriety but given that the Texas Democratic Party recently released an ambitious plan to turn the state blue, it is worth some attention.  In North Carolinathere has been an influx of new potential voters moving into the state that are significantly more educated — 32% have at least a bachelor’s degree. This is positive news for Democrats, given that surveys and polls indicate that voters with a college level education lean in their favor. It is possible that big demographic swings in a few states could alter the course of the national election. 

Hawthorn Group names Jared Melamed Dubnow Vice President


Hawthorn Group names Jared Melamed Dubnow Vice President


(Alexandria, Virginia) –Illinois political consultant Jared Melamed Dubnow has been named Vice President of The Hawthorn Group, an international public affairs firm based in Alexandria, Virginia, effective September 3, where he will design and implement public affairs campaign strategy for various client projects. The announcement was made by Hawthorn President Suzanne Hammelman.

Dubnow was part of the team that elected former Governor Bruce Rauner in Illinois. Following the election, Jared served in the administration in a variety of positions including Director of Operations for the Governor’s Office, where he oversaw the daily functions of the office as well as external engagement and public events. Following his tenure in the Governor’s Office, Jared led business recruitment as the Director of Business Engagement at the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

More recently, Dubnow has been a contract public affairs and strategic planning consultant, specializing in local government outreach, external stakeholder engagement, and grassroots communication. In that capacity, he worked with The Hawthorn Group on numerous client projects.

The announcement was made by Hawthorn’s President and Chief Operating Officer, Suzanne Hammelman, who said, “Mr. Dubnow is a great fit and will play an important role in the growth of Hawthorn. Jared is a talented campaign operative with extensive experience working with local stakeholders and thought leaders. Jared will be a valuable asset and serve our clients with distinction.”

Dubnow is a graduate of Emory University in Atlanta, where he received his B.A. in International Studies and Economics. A native of Chicago, Dubnow is a passionate Chicago sports fan, especially the Cubs. He will continue to reside in Chicago.

In addition to Dubnow, recent Auburn University graduate, Olivia McVeigh Watkins, is joining The Hawthorn Group as an associate in our Research Department. Watkins, from Charlottesville, VA, received her B.A. in English Literature from Auburn University in May. Watkins was very active on Auburn’s campus, working with both community organizations and her sorority Pi Beta Phi.

As summer comes to an end, Hawthorn bids farewell to our 2019 summer interns. Charles “Charlie” Olafsson, from San Diego, returns to George Washington University but will continue as a university associate throughout the school year and Lindsay Luchinsky from Kansas City, Missouri, returns to the University of Southern California.


Based in Alexandria, Virginia, The Hawthorn Group is an international public affairs firm of senior corporate and political communications experts specializing in building grassroots and grasstops support for issues to achieve public policy objectives. With activities and projects in more than 33 states over the past two years alone, Hawthorn has built campaigns that engage and recruit both grassroots and opinion leader support on issues of broad public concern, including: energy and tax policy, infrastructure programs, business development and resource planning.  Hawthorn finds and provides all appropriate means of persuasion, from industry coalitions to individual networking, from traditional advertising to community relations, from media relations to social media, blending all the available tools into the art of advocacy.

Rules for Political Prognostication in an Era in which No Rules Apply

After the surprise outcome of the 2016 election it has become conventional wisdom that the old rules of politics don’t apply anymore.  Today’s politics seem increasingly unpredictable and chaotic, driven by cable news and social media fanning the flames of a polarized electorate.  But it’s not anarchy yet.  Some traditional rules still apply and can help shine light into what seems the dark ages of politics.

Here are three “old rules” we think helpful for bringing order to chaos:

  • Resist the myths
  • Know the races, the handicaps and the polls
  • Follow the money

There are others, but we’ll focus on these three for now.

Resist the Myths

American politics has long been fertile ground for myth-making, ever since George Washington chopped down that cherry tree.  One emerging myth – sometimes called “conventional wisdom” – is that President Trump must win all of his 2016 states to win re-election.  According to that myth, lightening must strike twice, and in the same places, for the president to reach 270 electoral college votes.

In reality, the president has more flexibility to shake up the map going into 2020.  In 2016 he carried Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania by narrow margins.  Look for both sides to fight fiercely to polish off a win in this part of the Rust Belt.  But the president doesn’t need to win them all, as he did in 2016, to squeak out an electoral college win.  He need only hold on to one of them. He could also lose all three of those if he can pick up Minnesota, which he narrowly lost the first time around.  Should he manage to recapture those three states he could afford to lose Florida.  While it’s not necessarily a myth that history repeats itself, President Trump need not rely on 2016 redux to win.  He has room to maneuver.  Democrats target too narrowly at their peril.

Another “myth” comes in to play here as well…it used to be Election DAY.  Now voting goes on for a month or more, so it’s election MONTH.  And Minnesota is the first out of the starting gate, with early voting beginning September 18, 46 days before Election Day.

Know the Races

The second rule of politics– know the races, handicaps and polls – still provides insight on how the presidential contest will shake out.

Share of New Jobs

Share of New Jobs by MSA

Numbers count in this rule, and perhaps the most important numbers are economic. As former Governor and GOP Chair Haley Barbour said at our firm’s annual dinner over a year ago, economic recovery and growth is highly variable geographically and is mostly outside the Rust Belt and the Heartland of America.  But job growth in Denver, Phoenix, Detroit, and Charlotte will bolster Trump’s claims of a strong economy in “swing” presidential states including Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, North Carolina and Michigan (helping him hold on to one of those “must-win” Midwest states).  George Jones may have had “Friends in High Places,” but the president has high job numbers in the right places.  These economic numbers will also help GOP Senate candidates in Arizona, Colorado, Georgia and North Carolina.

Knowing the historical context of the polls provides perspective on the president’s job approval rating.

While Trump’s job approval is under 50 percent, at 44.8 percent, he’s still near the average job approval rating (48.6 percent) of the last three presidents to win a second-term (Clinton, Bush 43, and Obama).   Trump’s job approval rating is actually slightly better than Obama’s at this point in the Democrat’s presidency.  Among Republicans, the president’s approval remains steady and stellar at 90 percent (where he has hovered since inauguration) while he has improved somewhat among independents since January of this year.

Those are national numbers.  Looking at the president’s net approval in key battleground states, the numbers are bleaker for Mr. Trump:

Minnesota:  -16

Wisconsin: -14

Michigan: -7

Pennsylvania:  -9

Ohio: -4

Arizona: -7


Follow the Money

The Trump campaign raised a staggering $105 million in the second quarter of 2019, more than doubling President Barack Obama’s second-quarter 2011 haul of $46 million, and candidate Hillary Clinton’s $48 million at this point in the 2015 race.  Nor is Trump sitting on the money.  Since January 1, 2017 he has spent $75.2 million, and currently has $56.7 million cash-on-hand.  According to his campaign you can follow $35 million of that money to digital advertising and email prospecting.  The Trump campaign’s Facebook ad spending so far exceeds all of his Democratic rivals, combined.

Speaking of Trump’s rivals, Senators Sanders and Warren lead the pack, (at $46.3 and $35.7 million respectively).  Mayor Pete Buttigieg is close on Warren’s heels at $32.3 million.  “Front-runner” Joe Biden, while leading in the polls, trails behind in sixth place.  We will soon see if the former vice president’s lead in the polls follows the money – downwards.

Prepare Your Alibis

An unspoken old rule of politics is always to have an alibi handy.  We continue to think the presidential race is a toss-up and, with record-high turnout possible (the 2018 election was the highest turnout for a mid-term in 104 years) anything could happen.  Novelist Robert A. Heinlein wrote that politics is the “only game for grown-ups.”  That game may not be played today exactly the way it was in 1956 when Heinlein wrote those words, but despite the passage of year – and the demographic, communications and cultural shifts of the past several decades — some of the same rules still apply.  We will be following them.  Stay tuned.


They’re Playing Our Song

     A sidebar to the presidential cattle call in Iowa this month was the choice of “walk out” songs for each candidate. Case in point: Steve Bullock approached the podium to John Mellencamp’s “Small Town,” playing on his Helena roots. (Millennials were in diapers when John Edwards opened his rallies to the same sheet of music.)

But the staying power of these tunes will be tested at the Iowa State Fair this August and well into next winter when Hawkeye State caucus-goers lay the groundwork for the front-loaded primaries in New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina and California.

Perhaps Frank Sinatra or Tony Bennett have some sway in Iowa since the state is among the top ten with the largest population over 65.

Consider, though, as Michelle Cottle eloquently observed on the New York Times editorial page following the Democrats’ Iowa auditioning, the skew to older voters is just one aspect of letting Iowa lead the lopsided, nonsensical, distorted, imperfect and cockeyed system for choosing a party nominee. The state has “outsize[d] and unwarranted influence over the nomination process,” she writes, leading to a “parade of pandering.” She notes that in 2016, with all the attention heaped on Iowa, only 16 percent of the state’s eligible-to-vote population actually caucused.

Interestingly, in the Granite State, the median age is the second oldest in the nation but New Hampshire is well-to-do with the highest median income, 36 percent above the national average. But their voters are schooled well with test scores among the top in the U.S. And hip-hop may flop here with a population that is 91 percent white.

It is quite a contrast to South Carolina where the black population is 28 percent (among the states with the largest share of this demographic group.) But candidates here must appeal to such challenges as a median income 18 percent below the national average and a poverty rate higher than the national average. The Palmetto State is among the highest in the U.S. with residents lacking health insurance and among the lowest with college graduates.

Yet South Carolina is the second favorite destination for households relocating from other states. Canvassers take note though: these newbies are typically white, conservative, evangelical Republicans. And they are old. The fastest growing segment in the state is at least 85. And by the end of the next decade South Carolinians over 65 will outnumber the school-age population.

Nevadans, though, are among the nation’s least religious, perhaps in line with a trend across the entire U.S. of disaffiliation with faith and less frequency of worship. (Data show the growth in this demographic – currently rising as a share of the population in every region of the U.S. – could signal a higher voter turnout among those casting in favor of liberal candidates or Democrats.) Nevadans’ income is eight percent below the national average and less than one in four have a college degree.

California is an entity of its own, home to one of every eight U.S. residents; 38 percent white, 39 percent Hispanic and more than a quarter of its population native to a foreign land. Every fifth Californian is at or below the poverty line, driven in part by high housing costs. Fact: 70 of the priciest 100 zip codes for housing in the entire U.S. are in the Golden State.

One could easily conclude there is no logical rhyme or reason for this process of winnowing presidential nominees on the political equivalent of a hopscotch grid. Why this particular quintet of states to set the table? Might it not be better to design a system more reflective of the electorate overall?

For 2020 anyway, war room strategists on the campaign trail are fine tuning the lyrics in these frontloaded battlegrounds, pairing playlists to demographics that appeal to voters’ age, race, gender, ethnicity, income bracket, zip code, religion and labor force affiliation. It is a frustrating and puzzling exercise, but the enduring melodies as winter turns to spring may well be music to the ears of those dancing at the next Inaugural balls.

Hawthorn Group Names David Nassar Chief Strategy Officer and EVP

June 19, 2019

Hawthorn Group names David Nassar Chief Strategy Officer and EVP

(Alexandria, Virginia) — Former Brookings Institution Vice President David Nassar has been named Executive Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer of The Hawthorn Group, effective June 1, where he will oversee business development and will also lead strategy on various client projects. The announcement was made by Hawthorn Chairman John Ashford.

As Vice President for Communications at the Brookings Institution, Nassar served as part of the senior management team at Brookings and reported directly to President Strobe Talbott. While he was there, Brookings was recognized for the innovative work he did to expand Brookings as a media presence.

Nassar dramatically improved the quality of Brookings’ content presentation, grew their audience and improved the quality of engagement with that audience. During his tenure, their social and email following grew by hundreds of thousands and traffic to the website grew by millions. He led partnerships between Brookings and such notable publications as the New York Times and Esquire magazine. He also made landmark videos including a film called “The Life She Deserves” that premiered in Los Angeles at an event cosponsored by Variety Magazine.

Prior to that, David worked in the agency world for his own company and as a senior vice president at Blue State Digital, the firm behind President Obama’s digital organization strategy in the 2008 and 2012 campaigns. David also has a long track record of leading innovative campaigns. He has been credited with putting health care truly on the national presidential campaign stage in New Hampshire in 2004, and with leading efforts to build national grassroots support for health care reform from 2005-2008.

“David brings a track record of more than 20 years of successfully reaching and engaging the public from issue campaigns, to targeted election races, to one of the world’s biggest and most important knowledge brands,” Ashford said. “We value that capacity at Hawthorn and we know our corporate clients do too, which is why we are excited to have David join our team.”

Contact:  Suzanne Hammelman, 703-299-4499, [email protected]

Based in Alexandria, Virginia, The Hawthorn Group is an international public affairs firm of senior corporate and political communications experts specializing in building grassroots and grasstops support for issues to achieve public policy objectives. With activities and projects in more than 33 states over the past two years alone, Hawthorn has built campaigns that engage and recruit both grassroots and opinion leader support on issues of broad public concern, including: energy and tax policy, infrastructure programs, business development and resource planning. Hawthorn finds and provides all appropriate means of persuasion, from industry coalitions to individual networking, from traditional advertising to community relations, from media relations to social media, blending all the available tools into the art of advocacy.


Hawthorn Group Welcomes Summer Interns

For immediate release

June 6, 2019



Hailing from California and Kansas, Hawthorn Group Interns Gain Public Affairs Experience in the Nation’s Capital

Alexandria, Virginia –The Hawthorn Group is pleased to welcome their 2019 summer interns.

Charles “Charlie” Olafsson is a rising junior at George Washington University, where he is studying international affairs and communications. Before moving to the East Coast, Charlie lived in Carlsbad, CA. Charlie has worked previously both in politics and in communications, and his studies include intensive research and writing courses. He will add to Hawthorn’s collective internal social media expertise.

Lindsay Luchinsky is a resident of Mission Hills, KS and a graduate of Pembroke Hill School in Kansas City, MO, Lindsay is a rising junior in environmental studies at University of Southern California. She has experience and interest in many of Hawthorn’s areas of interest.

Contact:  Suzanne Hammelman, 703.299.4499, [email protected]



The Hawthorn Group, L.C., is an international public affairs company of senior political and corporate communications specialists. Hawthorn helps solve communications problems – public policy, media, crisis, customer, community, financial and employee – for corporations, associations and non-profit organizations. Based in Alexandria, Virginia, Hawthorn operates a premier national affiliate network of more than 50 regional agencies to provide on-site intelligence and support for its clients

For (Missouri) History Buffs

To Hawthorn Friends & Family

WARNING:  This is for true buffs of political – specifically Missouri political – history.

A couple weeks ago I was honored to speak in Arrow Rock, Missouri, an historic village (now of 56 people) above the Missouri River where Louis and Clark crossed it, where the Santa Fe Trail started, where the great American frontier artist George Caleb Bingham lived.  I spoke at the installation of my dear friend Chet Breitwieser as President of the Friends of Arrow Rock, the devoted group of supporters who champion the past in that community and keep it available and relevant to the present.

I argued that Arrow Rock’s experience with citizen statesmen – individuals who served in public office in ADDITION to their private lives, not consumed by their political lives – was not only vital to the existence of a government on the frontier but is a great model for what we need to day.

I hope you find at least some interesting history (highlighted in bold) in the following excerpts from those remarks.

You have heard it said, “When you have a hammer in your hand  everything looks like a nail.”  That is just one way of saying each of us sees the world from our own perspective.

My perspective is politics.  It’s what I’ve done for 50 years.  And when I look at the world through my perspective of politics I believe the history of Arrow Rock offers timely and powerful lessons highly relevant to today.

Indeed, the “Arrow Rock Model of Civic Engagement” may be the ONLY solution to the awful problems we face today.  Those problems ARE awful.  And, make no mistake, they ARE OUR problems; for as it was written by John Donne 400 years ago, “ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.”

Since the start of the last Presidential campaign four years ago, work for my corporate clients has had me in 33 states and I have overseen operations remotely in another nine.  What I have seen in 42 states is deeply troubling.

I see deepening divisions – and enmity – capable of tearing our nation apart between the “haves” and the “have nots”

I see growing insecurity, desperation, drug addiction, fear, intolerance, hatred, and despondency in dying cities and counties from the “Rust Belt” and Appalachia, to the Black Belt of the deep South, to the life-destroying chaos on our Southwest border.

And the once secure middle class is not exempt. Forty-five million Americans owe $1.5 trillion in student loans, more than many of them can pay. A report out last week told the story of college students choosing between eating and pay tuition.

For too long Washington — now long on profile and short on courage — has been little more than a “dumpster fire,” caught in mean-spirited political gameplaying, woefully unwilling and incapable of constructively addressing critical domestic issues of immigration, healthcare, trade and tariffs, education and the environment, and natural disasters, let alone Russia, China, North Korea, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America.

Why look for a solution in Arrow Rock?

Because Arrow Rock is NOT Washington, or even Jefferson City.  Because Arrow Rock is a wonderfully different place today AND has historic lessons from yesterday to teach today.

Look around.  This audience is representative of a civil society of caring, charitable, constructive people . . . givers, not takers, concerned about what’s good for everyone.  There are disagreements – about policy, but never principals – among neighbors seeking common solutions, among fellow citizens carrying their burden of self-government.

How different that is from Washington . . . and 50 state capitals where our fate is in the hands of today’s breed of professional politicians.

And that’s the profound – and vitally needed – historic lesson Arrow Rock teaches:  the role of the involved, engaged citizen willing to carry the burden of selfless public service.

Go back nearly 200 years, when Missouri’s admission to the Union was, in President Jefferson’s words, a “firebell in the night.”

Arrow Rock then was a small emerging village on the edge of the western migration.  The few people who lived here HAD to be involved, had to serve in public office, or there would have been no government.

In 1830, there were only 140,455 people in Missouri, and 14,125 of them were in St. Louis.  That left 126,330 spread over Missouri’s 69,704 square miles, less than two people (1.812) per square mile.

It had to be a government “of the people” or there would have been no government at all.

So here, from this small growing village, serving a vast wilderness, the Sappington family alone contributed three governors – Meredith Miles Marmaduke, Claiborne Fox Jackson, and John Sappington Marmaduke – and one State Representative, Erasmus Darwin Sappington (who had a close election loss — by three votes to George Caleb Bingham — reversed by a House controlled by Benton Democrats).

Public service is what leading families did in those days.  Mrs. Sappington’s family, the Breathitts, gave Kentucky two governors, a lieutenant governor, an attorney general and, most recently a state and federal public utility commissioner.

Just down the road from Arrow Rock back in the early and mid-1800’s lived Missouri’s famous Supreme Court Justice William Barclay Napton. 

And of course, we’ve already mentioned one of America’s most famous artists, George Caleb Bingham . . . who, in addition to his extraordinary skills with canvass and brush, still found time to serve his state as state representative (coming back to beat E.D. Sap-pington in the next election), state treasurer AND adjutant general.
That’s the Arrow Rock Model of Civic Engagement . . . like Cincinnatus, who left his plow to lead ancient Rome to victory over the Aequi and then returned to his farm.
These men served not because it was easy but because it was vital.  In those years leading to Civil War it was terribly hard,             and took an enormous toll, as brothers opposed brothers.  But it was their sacred duty.  Citizenship meant service.
They weren’t always successful — Bingham did not get to Congress, nor the consul positions he wanted, while Gov. Jackson died in Arkansas, retreating from Union troops, forced from the state that elected him governor — but they were faithful to their beliefs and to their belief in public service.

And Saline County continued the Arrow Rock model through the centuries . . .

  • from James Coomey’s service after The War as Probate Judge, Prosecuting Attorney, and Member of Congress . . .
  • to Sally Hailey, who could have stayed in Ernest’s insurance agency, but she chose ceiling-breaking service as Missouri’s Democratic National Committeewoman and Director of Business Administration in the cabinet of Governor John Montgomery Dalton . . .
  • to our recently departed friend Dr. James I. Spainhower, who left a comfortable pulpit to become State Representative, Chair of the House Education Committee, State Treasurer, and candidate for Governor.

To that list must be added:

  • an adopted son of Saline County, Missouri Valley College’s colossal Chairman and President, H. Roe Bartle, who returned to Kansas City to serve two terms as Mayor
  • an adopted daughter of Saline County Carolyn Ashford who served as Director of Natural Resources and the first woman to be Chief of Staff to the Governor of Missouri, then spent a career in private industry,
  • and Marshall native Brian Treece could easily have been satisfied with a career as one of the best lobbyists in Jefferson City.  Instead, he ran for, was elected (and by two-to-one recently re-elected) and serves as the distinguished mayor of Columbia, Missouri.

That’s what America needs.  People (as the late Eric Sevareid once said) who aren’t interested in BEING something, but in DOING something . . . in doing something as public servants.

What Missouri needs, what America needs, what the world needs is a return to the Arrow Rock Model of Civic Engagement.

Professor Paul Nagle closes his wonderful book on with a tribute to George Caleb Bingham, “We ought to remember he gave much of his energy to working to make Missouri a better place to live.” Ah, if that could only be said of all of us. 

Issue Advocacy on Steroids

The early presidential campaign season provides huge opportunities to insert issues into the national debate.

April 29, 2019

A few years ago, a client asked us to raise awareness and generate support for their critical issue among decision makers and so-called “influentials,” with the aim of influencing policies at the federal level and multiple states. Luckily the request came at a time that offered a tremendous opportunity: an upcoming presidential election.

The first set of “early” states (February 2020) — Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina — offer unique opportunities for citizens to raise issues, igniting a conversation that can be amplified and carried into other states. And, of course, some of the major Super Tuesday states (March 2020) are critically important battlegrounds for issue advocates. The focus on these states provides access to three important audiences: the media and voters in the state, the media and voters nationwide, and the candidates themselves.

The assignment came six months prior to the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, giving us time to create and implement a strategy that built, state-by-state, an effort that resulted in positive discussion of the issue in all four general election debates and among major state and national news organizations. The result was a measurable positive impact on public opinion. As we neared Election Day, both major party presidential candidates had adopted our message and included it as part of their stump speeches … a 180-degree turn from the beginning of the campaign when no one was talking about the issue.

While not easy or inexpensive — for an industry that desperately needed the support in multiple states and in Washington, D.C. — it was the most cost-effective way to approach the challenge. The effort took 15 months from planning to Election Day, covered most of the traditional battleground states, and was planned and implemented just like a major political campaign, with our “candidate” being the issue itself. It involved polling and focus groups, advertising (digital, radio, television and print), social media, earned media, and massive on-the-ground voter advocacy that generated visibility and demonstrated voter support at candidate campaign events, at the debates and in the news.

The client’s issue became an integral part of the story rather than one more issue fighting for news in a saturated communications environment.

Bottom line, if you need to get people talking about your issue, move public opinion and affect decisions without being drowned out by the increasing noise of the 2020 election cycle, the time to start is now.

Suzanne Hammelman, President, The Hawthorn Group, L.C.

Preliminary Thoughts on the 2019 Races

To Hawthorn Friends & Family —

In the absence of any recent musing by us on the political scene (what, we ask ourselves, could possibly need to be said that isn’t already being said, over and over?), to my utter amazement I’ve been getting emails from folks asking if they’ve been dropped from our distribution lists and actually asking for our current thoughts.

I’m not sure there is much to add to what, as noted, is being said, but in the interest of at least highlighting items that we’ve noted recently, let me share:

  1. The President’s Fundraising Advantage

The Trump campaign this week announced they had raised $30 million in the first quarter of this year.  I was struck by:

  • Although likely to INCREASE as the election gets closer, that’s an ANNUAL fundraising rate of $120 million a year.
  • It is more than the top two Democratic contenders combined.
  • Of President Trump’s contributions 99% are $200 or less — a stunning demonstration of small donor support — with the average contribution $34.
  • He has $40 million cash on hand.

In the immortal words of the late Deep Throat of long-ago Watergate fame, Follow the money.”

And that wisdom applies not only to totals, but also to SIZE of gifts and number of true small donors.  Not even Bernie Sanders – or Elizabeth Warren, who has eschewed major contributions – can begin to approach 99% small donors.  That’s an impressive base of voters and potential volunteers (IF the Trump campaign can figure out how to use them to localize and personalize the Trump message).

Where is all this money coming from? Seniors are part of the answer. See this week’s story from Axios where Trump is targeting Seniors on Facebook over other age demographics.

I was also reminded of Deep Throat’s wise admonition reading a MoScout story this week about Missouri Democratic State Auditor – and the party’s best hope for a gubernatorial candidate in 2020 – Nicole Galloway’s fundraising.  It noted she had “raised $144,194, not too far from the amount raised by Mike Parson, the sitting governor, $198,931.”  

BUT as MoScout noted – and God IS in the details (of finances AND politics) – “If she dives into this race, Galloway will have to redouble her fundraising because Team Parson holds a big money lead.  His campaign committee has more than $1 million cash on-hand (Galloway has $65K COH) and Parson’s allied PAC, Uniting Missouri, has $2.3 million on-hand.”

There is a WORLD of difference between trailing in recent fundraising by only $50,000 and trailing in cash on-hand by $3.2 million.

In this rapidly changing world of politics, “Follow the money” remains unchanged.

  1. The RNC’s Fundraising Advantage

Anyone “following the money” would also note that as of March 1, 2019, the FEC reported the Democratic National Committee had cash on hand of $8,660,790, with debts of $4,590,612, a net of $3,960,178 while the Republican National Committee had cash of hand of $31,141,261, with NO debt, an eight-to-one advantage to the GOP.

  1. Categorizing the Democratic Aspirants

With no hope of yet being able to handicap their prospects, I am currently grouping the Democrats into two categories:

  • “The Over-the-Hill Gang”  (Sanders at 77, Biden at 76, Warren at 69, etc. vs. Trump at 72 and laughably irrelevant William Weld at 73) and
  • “The Not Quite Ready for Prime Time Players” (Harris, O’Rourke, Buttigieg, Gillibrand, Klobuchar, Booker, Castro, etc.).

There is, of course, a third category, “Legends in their Own Minds” (to borrow a phrase from the late beloved Bob Strauss), those hopelessly tilting at windmills who are unlikely to ever break through the initial barrier and start to be taken seriously (Swalwell, Gabbard, Ryan, Delaney, Yang, etc.).  And while nearly doomed to stay in that hopeless category, there are some appealing would-be contenders, one, or two, or even three of whom might catch on enough to become at least minor contenders (Inslee, Hickenlooper, Bennett, etc.).

  1. The Front-Loaded Democratic Calendar

Despite the 20-or-more candidates vying for the Democratic nomination, it COULD be an early decision.

As University of Virginia’s Larry Sabato pointed out recently in his always “must read” Crystal Ball, “almost two-thirds of the total number of pledged delegates will be awarded in the first seven weeks of the nominating season, from February 3, 2020 through March 17, 2020.”

Indeed, as he points out (and we highlight the MAJOR states), in only two weeks, between Super Tuesday (California, North Carolina, Texas, Virginia) on March 3rd, thru March 10th (Michigan and Ohio), thru March 17th (Florida and Illinois), 60% of the Democratic delegates will be awarded.

It is, of course, NOT certain at all there will be an early winner. Iowa and New Hampshire – grossly NON-representative of the Democrats’ voting base – don’t account for all that many delegates and Sanders or Warren may have a “lock” on neighboring New Hampshire.

Minorities start appearing at the polls in Nevada and, massively, in South Carolina (each also in other ways non-representative of the rest of America).

Among the big early states, Sen. Kamala Harris may have a lock on California, Beto O’Rourke on Texas and Warren on Massachusetts . . . leaving the big early battleground states of Florida, Illinois, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia.

Two other interesting changes this year:

  • Early voting in California starts the same day as the Iowa caucuses and well before New Hampshire’s primary.  Without formally threatening their – totally indefensible – “first in the nation status,” it does diminish/skew their impact.
  • In 2020, Super Delegates (760 out of some 4,530 total delegates) can only vote on the first ballot IF the nomination has already been decided by the primaries.

Sabato’s Crystal Ball actually explains this arcania in an intelligible manner . . . and makes the point the last President whose nomination went to a second ballot was FDR in ’32 (when two-thirds of the delegates were still required for nomination) and the last nominee whose nomination went to a second  ballot was Adlai Stevenson in ’52.  Why DO we have conventions any more, anyway?

  1. The Senate Looks Grim for a Democratic Takeover in 2020

While 22 of the 35 seats up in 2020 are GOP seats, prospects are NOT good for a Democratic takeover.

In his last report, the inimitable Charlie Cook viewed NONE of the Republican seats a “Lean Democrat” or “Toss-Up” . . .  and only three as “Lean Republican” (the rest being “Likely Republican” or “Solid Republican”).  He counts those three “Lean Republican” seats as Arizona (McSally), Colorado (Gardner) and Maine (Collins, whose DEMOCRAT colleague from West Virginia, Joe Manchin, has already endorsed her).  Any of the three COULD become a serious race, but not without a serious challenger, which each currently lacks.  While Sen. Collins does not have an opponent yet, Democratic fury at her Kavanaugh vote has already raised over $3 million to her future opponent.

Of the 13 Democratic seats, Charlie considers 11 of them safe for re-election, two “Likely D” and nine “Solid D.”  However, he lists one – Doug Jones’ seat in Alabama – as “Toss Up.”

While I’ve learned the perils of disagreeing with Charlie, I’d push it farther to the GOP, to at least “Lean Republican” if not “Likely Republican.”  Jones beat the infamous Roy Moore by 21,924 votes in his special election runoff that saw 22,852 write-in votes posted (mostly by Republicans disgusted with Moore, such as the senior Senator, Richard Shelby).  It is a state President Trump carried by 62.08% to 34.06%.  There are NO Democrats in statewide office.  A pathetically weak GOP candidate for governor won in 2018 with 59.5% of the vote.  Doug Jones is a quietly but strongly impressive public servant and a solid candidate, but his prospects are dim in that state.

So, instead of gaining the two seats they need to take the majority, we believe the Democrats will actually LOSE one seat and the GOP will keep the Senate.

  1. And Governors Don’t Look Much Better for Dems.

There are 14 governors offices on the ballot this cycle, three this year (Louisiana, Mississippi and Kentucky) and 11 next year . . . a total of  five Democrat and nine Republican.  Charlie counts NONE as “Toss Up” and only two Democrat (Louisiana and Montana) as “Lean Democrat” and only one Republican (Kentucky) as “Lean Republican.”

We agree with Charlie and see little change among Governors . . . indeed, we’d call Kentucky as “Likely Republican.”  The incumbent seems likely to hold on to Louisiana and we don’t know enough about Montana to have a view.

  1. Can the Democrats Hold the U. S. House?

It is, in all honestly, too early to tell.  But we haven’t seen much to make us believe political attitudes have changed since November, 2018, when the Democrats came from behind to sweep control.

Of course, President Trump will be ON the ballot in 2020, a HUGE change from 2018.  And it’s clear House members – from Speaker Pelosi to the young firebrands – will be major attack targets for the President. 

  1. What We Really Need!

I have been working on a speech for a group of historic-minded benefactors in the old Missouri frontier town of Arrow Rock, who will gather there to honor my dear friend Chet Breitwieser as the new president of the Friends of Arrow Rock.

That little town in the tumultuous years before (and just after) the Civil War that was family home to three governors of Missouri, up the road from the farm of the state’s embattled chief justice, and (in the person of one of America’s most famous artists, George Caleb Bingham), home for a state treasurer and state adjutant general . . . all citizens – not professional career politicians – willing to serve in high public office in horribly difficult times.

Appealing for similar citizen involvement today, I intend to quote – with apologies for its male-gender foucs, typical of the era in which it was written – a poem by Josiah Gilbert Holland:

GOD, give us men!
A time like this demands
Strong minds, great hearts, true faith and ready hands;
Men whom the lust of office does not kill;
Men whom the spoils of office can not buy;
Men who possess opinions and a will;
Men who have honor; men who will not lie;
Men who can stand before a demagogue
And damn his treacherous flatteries without winking!
Tall men, sun-crowned, who live above the fog
In public duty, and in private thinking;
For while the rabble, with their thumb-worn creeds,
Their large professions and their little deeds,
Mingle in selfish strife, lo! Freedom weeps,
Wrong rules the land and waiting Justice sleeps.