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Citizens for a Sound Economy launched an intensive campaign to educate consumers and senior citizens about the consequences of big government proposals to address the Medicare crisis. Under intense time constraints, the Center was able to educate tens of thousands with the facts on Medicare and shift the terms of debate.
CSE had battle-tested health policy experience even before the threat of HillaryCare, the Clinton administration’s universal health care proposal presented in 1993. The experience gained while successfully defeating that proposal led us to understand that a thorough discussion of the details of these schemes can significantly alter voters’ impressions of them.
Thus, we knew going into this campaign season that educating voters about the details of both the Gore and Bush Medicare prescription drug benefit proposals would be the key to creating grassroots pressure in favor of market-based approaches to Medicare. Seniors want the benefits of choice and competition. They are rightly afraid of plans that trap them into a one-size-fits-all government program with no hope for escape.
Our strategy was to target the states and districts where:
· We have a strong grassroots base of activists who can be educated and mobilized;
· The prescription drug issue is particularly important; and where
· There is a hotly contested election (because these candidates pay the closest attention to their constituents).
Accordingly, we targeted the key states of California, Florida, Michigan, New Hampshire, and North Carolina. Within these states, we focused our on-the-ground campaign efforts on selected districts with tight races, aggressively educating voters with educational workshops, door-to-door solicitation, many hundreds of yard signs, and Medicare literature.
Medicare Educational Workshops
CSE knows the value of providing activists with solid information and the tools they need to become engaged. One such tool was a series of educational workshops on Medicare we sponsored in our key states. A useful educational component of the workshops we developed was a colorful, easy-to-understand PowerPoint overhead presentation that was created by CSE’s public affairs staff. This presentation explains how Medicare works, what it’s designed to do, what it actually does, and outlines the problems Medicare is experiencing. Then it carefully leads the audience step-by-step through the specifics of the Gore and Bush plans to expand Medicare to include a prescription drug benefit.
Once we perfected this short but effective presentation, we trained each director of CSE’s targeted state chapters on how to make the presentation and provided them with talking points and answers to questions. Then Florida director Slade O’Brien, Michigan director Stephen Flaherty, California director Michael Vallante, New Hampshire director Richard Killion, and North Carolina director Chuck Fuller hit the road.
During their one-month travels throughout their state, the directors and their staffs gave the presentations at Republican Executive Committee meetings, several Seniors’ residential communities, political events, and anywhere they got invited. Overall, nearly fifty different presentations were made to thousands and thousands of voters and seniors.
CSE’s National Call to Action
In order to mobilize our activist base nationwide and in our key states, CSE issued a national Call to Action. We sent a comprehensive mailing to over 66,000 selected CSE activists in our key states in early October. The activists received talking points, links to sample letters to lawmakers, and a Call to Action to write their Representatives and tell them they don’t want Congress to pass Gore’s prescription drug plan.
The response to the mailing was overwhelming. During the days after the mailing dropped, our state and national offices were deluged with phone calls, emails, requests for information, and plenty of positive feedback. Traffic to our web page skyrocketed. Several people found the information so helpful that they called us and requested dozens of copies of Medicare educational materials to distribute to their friends, colleagues, and, in one case, to include in employees’ payroll checks.
Another of the more popular Call to Action tools we use during campaign implementation is the message novelty item. For the Medicare campaign, we produced a variety of yard signs, a detailed brochure, fair cards, colorful charts comparing the Bush and Gore plans in both English and Spanish, postcards, and of course our famous t-shirts, which read “Empty Promises Aren’t the Rx America’s Seniors Need.”
We also mailed over 104,000 copies of CSE’s newsletter, The Sentinel, to our activists and other selected audiences. A whole-page article explained the myths and realities of the Al Gore prescription drug proposal, focusing on how the plan traps Seniors, takes away their choices, and takes decision making power away from Seniors themselves and gives it to government bureaucrats.
Mobilization Before the Election
In the world of grassroots activism, nothing beats personal, hands-on contact. This is why for the week leading up to the election, when the Medicare and prescription drug issues were receiving the most intense media coverage, CSE sent 16 staffers out in the field to join our permanent state-based staff.
Our staff and activists spend 12-18 hours per day working while they are in the field. They tirelessly speak one-on-one to other activists and voters, pound thousands of yard signs into the ground, make countless media appearances, give endless interviews, hand out literature, hold signs at numerous political events, relentlessly spreading CSE’s Medicare message.
In North Carolina alone, for example, our committed activists went door-to-door in precinct walks that covered most of the populated areas of the state. In fact, by the end of election day, North Carolina CSE had knocked on the doors of 30,000 homes.
One encouraging highlight occurred in Florida the day before the election. While several CSE staffers and volunteers were pounding Medicare message signs in the ground in Del Ray, Florida Governor Jeb Bush saw them, pulled over his motorcade, and got out to talk to the activists! He thanked the CSE activists for their hard work on this issue.
CSE’s established on-the-ground presence in our states allowed us to have an immediate and decisive influence on the debate. A multitude of earned media mentions ensued, as did multiple visits with elected officials and office seekers.
The earned media we generated from the Medicare campaign is distinctive, not only for the sheer volume (nearly one hundred hits), but for how well the directors of the state chapters were able to penetrate the local media in their states. The directors and other staff conducted more than a dozen radio interviews and television appearances, and published several op-eds in major local papers.
Behind the focus-group tested rhetoric, the Gore plan is a one-size-fits-all bureaucratic nightmare that forces seniors to pay more for less, divests them of choices, and threatens innovations in life-saving medicine.
¯New Hampshire CSE Director Richard Killion in op-ed published in The Union Leader in Manchester
In Florida, CSE staff conducted over two dozen briefings before grasstop activists and seniors’ communities. Florida CSE activists let policymakers, including Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Florida Governor Jeb Bush, and Florida Representatives Clay Shaw, Mark Foley and Bill McCollum (R-FL), know that we oppose a one-size-fits-all government health benefit.
In North Carolina, CSE activists visited placed yardsigns and distributed literature in the key 8th Congressional district ensuring that candidates hear the pro-market Medicare reform message. In New Hampshire, focus on the Medicare and the prescription drug issue may have played a significant role in U.S. Representative Charlie Bass’s overwhelming reelection to office.
In Michigan, a key battle ground state, our staff and activists were repeatedly in front of the leading policymakers and candidates, including Senator Spence Abraham and Governor John Engler reminding them that competition and choice must be the hallmark of any Medicare reform.
And in California, CSE staff educated activists and voters on the prescription drug proposals in three critical Congressional districts. Reps. Brian Bilbray (R-CA), Steve Kuykendall (R-CA), and James Rogan (R-CA) all heard the message in their districts that CSE broadcasts at its Medicare workshops.
In the wake of the 2000 elections, one thing is abundantly clear: it was the on-the-ground campaign work on the margins that made the difference. This is where CSE focuses its time and resources—touching more voters than made up the difference between winning and losing. The candidates know CSE’s strength and they heed our message. In the battleground states and in the tight districts, CSE was there to tilt the balance, and we did.