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Branding the ’09 Political Races, and Rebranding the Tainted Republican Image

Since it’s election day, let’s play an election-themed guessing game. Each of the following screen shots is from the Web site of a politician up for election today. Can you guess their party affiliations? Bob McDonnell, running for governor of Virginia: Creigh Deeds, McDonnell’s opponent: John Corzine, up for re-election in New Jersey: Chris Christie, Corzine’s opponent: Answers from top to bottom: Republican, Democrat, Democrat, Republican.

Since it’s election day, let’s play an election-themed guessing game. Each of the following screen shots is from the Web site of a politician up for election today. Can you guess their party affiliations?

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Bob McDonnell, running for governor of Virginia:

Bob McDonnell

Creigh Deeds, McDonnell’s opponent:

Creigh Deeds

John Corzine, up for re-election in New Jersey:

John Corzine

Chris Christie, Corzine’s opponent:

Chris Christie

Answers from top to bottom: Republican, Democrat, Democrat, Republican.

But it’s not obvious, if you don’t already know the candidates: None of these politicians make any direct mention of political party on their Web site. As Nate Silver notes, that’s a canny move: After all, New Jersey and Virginia went blue in 2008, but independents will decide the races. The Democratic brand doesn’t help much with independents; the Republican brand is positively toxic. The marketing and PR muscle which once drove both political parties is gone. Better to brand yourself as someone beyond party affiliation. And the first step is scrubbing your Web site of any mentions that you’re a Republican or Democrat.

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Now, there are a couple very subtle cues going on in the Deeds and Corzine Web sites: They both latch onto President Obama, without name-checking the Democratic party (of which they’re both a part). As Silver notes, Deeds has a design basically lifted form Obama’s own homepage, while Corzine has pictures of himself with Obama and Bill Clinton. In other words, they’re trying to catch a little stardust from better-loved politicians, while leapfrogging their party associations.

But what are Republicans supposed to do next? They can’t play the no-party game forever, and they’re facing a profound lack of national leadership. Silver has an interesting suggestion:

You can actually make the argument–although maybe it’s not a good one–that Republicans should in fact find a way to pull a Blackwaterand switch their party ID when nobody is looking, from Republican tocapital-C Conservative. This would probably involve at least somedegree of bona fide structural change, and undoubtedly some near-term trauma: an orchestrated chaos. But the ‘conservative’ brand is just as powerful as it ever was in America, whereas the Republican brand is as weak as it has been.

Of course, as Silver implies, the Republican brand didn’t spoil just because of the previous administration. Figures such as Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck are dragging the Republican base further and further from the mainstream on issues ranging from abortion to clean energy to health care reform. A rebranded “Conservative” party might be able to leave that Republican base behind, simply by peeling off moderates that are now wary of voting Republican.

[Read more at 538]

About the author

Cliff is director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.

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