Sunday, October 29, 2006

Brand Realignment: Fighting for the Face of the Democratic Party

SAN FRANCISCO – The conventional wisdom presupposes that Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will become the first female Speaker of the House with the swearing in of the 110th Congress on January 3. For Democrats, particularly progressive wing of its base, this will be cause for celebration – and for the Democratic brand, a potential quandary of significant proportions. Should a Speaker Pelosi become the "Face of the Democratic Party?"

No one doubts Pelosi's tremendous skill as a politician. She's tough, telegenic, and more than willing to speak her mind. She's brought Republican-like party discipline to a divergent group of personalities, interests, and political denominations. And, as Speaker, Pelosi would, indeed, shatter yet another "marble ceiling."

The problem for Pelosi – and her closest allies – is that a Democratic victory in Election 2006 won't necessarily represent a national embrace of the party's progressive bi-coastal élites. In fact, what portends to be a "realigning election" is more than likely to be a general repudiation of the Republican brand, its presidential standard-bearer – and some really astute recruitment of Democratic challengers in nominally-red congressional districts than a general affection for the Democratic line.

This begs the question: How will Pelosi play in Vanderburgh County, Indiana, the home of rising Democratic star, Sheriff Brad Ellsworth? Will "The San Francisco Democrat" hurt the chances of Heath Shuler, the likely victor in North Carolina's 11th District, when he's forced to start campaigning for re-election on January 4?

If the Democrats have the chance to elect Nancy Pelosi to Speaker, they need to confront that always prickly issue of "brand alignment," getting an organization to "live its brand at every touchpoint." And, for the Democrats of the 110th Congress, "branding" will be one of its toughest challenges, as the threads of this new Democratic Party have not been spun from so many different spindles for at least a generation. With such diversity comes great dramatic tension. What works for the constituents of Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) might stir up a dust storm for Mr. Shuler. But, with 12 years of life in political Siberia, the Democrats have learned that it's difficult to win power without appealing to the world between the coasts.

Perhaps the Democrats will take a page out of the Shuler playbook – and embrace the common thread espoused by the Democrats of yore, including Heath's grandmother, to "Help those who cannot help themselves." From a brand perspective, such talk might best be served up by some folks with some swagger, a drawl, and an undying love for the NASCAR – more than faces from the coasts.

1 comment:

dimmy said...

The Republicans have been using this to no end to try to scare their base in conservative districts to try and hurt our moderate dem candidates. However this has been ineffective as many of these candidates maintain leads. The American people want a change and Pelosi was chosen as Democratic leader so that the Democratic party could offer itself as a legitimate alternative and opposition to the Republicans rather than the Republican-lite models they have used in years past. Pelosi is a skilled enough politician to realize that Dems from conservative districts arn't going to vote in lock step with her on social issues. Pelosi can be the face of the Democratic party by focusing national legislation on bread and butter issues (healthcare, education, minimum wage) and allowing incumbent Dems to tailor their own votes in bill sponsorships to suit the needs and inclinations of their districts. Remember, dems didn't have great success with pro-war Dick Gephardt.