GOP CONVENTION: Spreading a message; Advocacy group runs campaign to be noticed

Monday, July 31, 2000

BY GREG RETSINAS, Raleigh Bureau Chief

Wilmington Morning Star

Copyright 2000 Wilmington Star-News

PHILADEPHIA – From sunrise to sundown, attendees to this week’s 2000 Republican National Convention will be bombarded with messages. Some will revolve around George W. Bush’s agenda; others may be the voices of the numerous protesters throughout the city.

It can be chaotic, which makes Chuck Fuller’s job as head of a North Carolina conservative advocacy group all that more difficult this week.

Mr. Fuller’s goal is to make sure North Carolina’s 124-member delegation hear his message, and that means an intensive dose of guerilla marketing as the convention starts here on Monday.

Stealing a page from Internet companies that are finding more and creative ways to reach people, North Carolina Citizens for a Sound Economy, or CSE, will spend most of convention week trying to get their point across in any way possible. Namely, the group is promoting a range of economic-related issues in North Carolina, ranging from increased cable TV competition to lower taxes to limits on civil lawsuits.

The issues are not a tough sell with the Republican delegates, many of whom agree with the group’s positions. But the tough part for CSE is being heard above the din of a national convention.

This is the one-year-old state group’s first major lobbying effort, and it is indicative of the challenges that small grassroots organizations can have in reaching an audience. Well-heeled corporations can buy access to the delegates with receptions and parties, and official party events promote the Bush campaign’s agenda. But the assortment of other GOP-friendly groups has to fend for their own this week. Meeting privately in a Philadelphia hotel room on Sunday, seven CSE members, most of who are alternate delegates to the convention, plotted strategy for the convention week as they acknowledged the long hours ahead.

The plan includes handing out T-shirts, bumper stickers, pins, talking points and business cards. A costumed actor dressed as “Sharkman” will appear at a party on Thursday in support of court reform. The shark is supposed to represent trial lawyers. CSE plans to start a grassroots campaign in North Carolina this fall call|ing for court reform.

“Our goal is for anybody from North Carolina to have something on them with the CSE star on it,” said Mr. Fuller, a former accountant who is the group’s executive director.

Joyce Fernando, an alternate delegate from Wilmington, said she is thinking about starting a CSE chapter in the Wilmington area. She agreed to help pass out shirts and posters along with a few other volunteers.

“We’ll just have to stay out all night,” said Franklin Williams, a Raleigh insurance agent, referring to plans to leave CSE materials outside delegates’ hotel rooms at 5 a.m.

The biggest obstacle in the group’s guerilla marketing plan is that very little of the GOP convention is not tightly controlled. The events at the new First Union Center in Philadelphia are less political pep rally and more orchestrated theater. But with more than 15,000 media members present, groups such as CSE hope that if a delegate wears one of their message T-shirts, it might get captured on a TV camera.