Making the candidate's message clear

Political commentator Nicolle Wallace.

TEXT OF COMMENTARY

Kai Ryssdal: We are in the home stretch of the mid-term election cycle. Only one more week of campaign mailers and political ads to deal with. But if you think you're glad it's almost over, imagine for just a second the lives of people inside the campaigns -- the people who live, breathe and work the machinery of politics. That's who we'll hear from the next few days. The people who frame the message and count the votes.

Up first, the communicators with commentator Nicole Wallace.


Nicole Wallace: The final days of a campaign are harrowing for everyone involved, but the "communicators" usually have it the roughest. We read the papers and political blogs online at o'dark-thirty, spar with our counterparts on the morning shows, fine-tune the candidate's message for the day and try to get the campaign's top surrogates to sing from the same song sheet.

"Communicators" is campaign parlance for the clump of staff responsible for the candidate's relationship with the press. Translation: We handle the press.

I've worked on two presidential campaigns: For George W. Bush's re-election in 2004 and on Senator McCain's campaign in 2008. In 2004, we pioneered new technologies for targeting voters by reaching women at the gym and men at NASCAR races. And it worked.

Those advances were rendered obsolete in 2008 when President Obama's campaign turned to social media to mobilize voters. What the Obama campaign accomplished online transformed modern day campaigns and dramatically accelerated the news cycles.

But my job was to make sure that what the candidate said got through. I was the first person to trot out a new line of attack. If we succeeded in getting the other campaign to stutter, we'd pass the new language on to the candidate. If it was a flop, we'd scrap it and look for something better for our candidate, for whom the stakes were much, much higher.

When Senator McCain campaign launched an ad called "Celebrity," I appeared on four morning shows to make the case that then-candidate Obama was all flash and no substance. We finally had some traction, so Senator McCain carried the message throughout the day.

The communicators are the tip of the spear on campaigns, but there is no tougher job than the one that the candidate performs. He or she is the one who's held up for scrutiny and subject to intrusions that were once unthinkable in American politics. Most people who work on campaigns consider themselves fortunate to be in the arena, but it's the communicators who have the best seats in the house.

Ryssdal: Nicole Wallace's new book is called "Eighteen Acres." It's a fictional account of America's first female president. Tomorrow in our series, the life of a pollster. In the meantime, send us your comments.

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