Newt Gingrich

Pick Your Product Placements Well

Etch A Sketch emerged from relative obscurity to become a hot new toy — and a political metaphor — after an off-hand comment by an aide to a presidential candidate.We are familiar with product placements in movies and TV shows, but are they now showing up in political statements? Maybe not, but don't tell that to the makers of Etch A Sketch, or Mitt Romney.

Sales of the 1960-vintage drawing toy soared after a comment by Eric Fehrnstrom, communications director for the GOP presidential hopeful, referred to it as a metaphor describing how Romney would reset his campaign in the fall if he wins the Republican nomination.

"It's almost like an Etch A Sketch," Fehrnstrom said. "You kind of shake it up and restart it all over again."

Etch a Sketch may be an iconic toy that has lost its luster in the digital age, but that didn't stop the toy maker's PR firm, Southard Communications, from swinging into action. They turned it into a real-life Toy Story adventure – without Tom Hanks and Tim Allen as voice talents.

The PR pros kept Fehrnstrom's quote in the national news, while maintaining political neutrality, by sending an Etch a Sketch to all the leading presidential candidates, including President Obama. They also dispatched Etch a Sketches to talk shows to hand out to studio audiences, resulting in loads of free air time showing how the toy works while kindling old memories among post-Baby Boomers.

The Frontrunner, the Dwarfs and the Debate

If you were hankering for a great debate about health care, birth control and bombing Iran, don't expect to see Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney square off in Portland March 19. Photo by Panorama Mercantil.Oregon Public Broadcasting brushed off objections by Mayor Sam Adams, but it may be harder to sustain a GOP presidential primary debate in Portland without a frontrunner.

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney dispatched a staff member to announce he wouldn't be participating in the March 19 debate in Portland hosted by OPB and broadcast by National Public Radio. Now the question is whether any of the three other remaining presidential candidates will participate. So far, only Newt Gingrich has committed to attend.

While Gingrich's outsized personality and political rhetoric can fill a stage, it is debatable whether the debate will go on if he is a solo act.

There have been 20 Republican presidential debates, the last one February 23 in Arizona. The contest since then has turned into a regional sideshow with Romney, Gingrich and Rick Santorum stumping the country in the shadow of advertising by their respective supporting SuperPACs. Ron Paul depends on his organic grassroots network of support.

Cautionary Coat-tails in 2012 Presidential Race

Based on the present and projected GOP presidential lineup of potential nominees, it is hard to imagine President Obama losing California, Washington and Oregon in his 2012 bid for re-election. It is the Left Coast, after all.

But winning isn't everything in presidential politics. A candidate may not have coat-tails, but his or her campaign does. Those coat-tails can make a huge difference in so-called down ballot races for Congressional seats and statewide offices.

The most notable recent example occurred in 2008 when Republican presidential hopeful John McCain pulled the plug on his Oregon campaign. That pullout left a late, gaping hole in Senator Gordon Smith's campaign and arguably played a role in his eventual defeat by Jeff Merkley.

That helps explain why David Axelrod, Obama's top political adviser, showed up in Seattle to reassure Democratic officials and operatives the President wouldn't take the Pacific Northwest for granted.

Some show of force by the Democratic presidential candidate can translate into tangible help for fellow Democrats facing tough races. In Oregon, Congressmen Kurt Schrader and David Wu, assuming he survives a primary challenge, could be in fights for their political lives.

Trump Out, But Not Forgotten

Donald Trump's whirlwind presidential bid is now history, but his short-lived, volatile candidacy may be illuminating to his GOP colleagues. Even though he will be reduced in history as a footnote to this election, Trump soared in the polls with his in-your-face political style, reflecting a Republican yearning for someone to challenge President Obama toe to toe.

Washington Post political columnist Chris Cillizza described Trump's Icarus-like rise and fall as a cautionary tale for 2012 GOP contenders. He quotes senior Republican strategist Scott Reed as saying, "Donald Trump was an anti-establishment figure who demonstrated the importance of taking the debate right to Obama frontally and hard, which the eventual GOP nominee must do daily to win."

Rob Stutzman, a California GOp strategist, echoes the point. "He had the appeal of a candidate who would brawl with Obama on behalf of the rank and file and create contrast."

The lesson from Trump may be a hard pill to swallow for remaining candidates, Cillizza suggests. "Any sign of agreement — or even willingness to think about agreeing — with the President is viewed as capitulation within some non-insignificant element of the Republican party, many of whom identify closely with the tea party movement."