Rick Santorum

Winnowing Presidential Wannabes

Candidates are spending more time talking about airing their dirty laundry than issues.

Candidates are spending more time talking about airing their dirty laundry than issues.

This is the time in the election cycle when presidential candidates spend less time talking to voters than to donors, as well as less time talking about issues than skeletons in their closets.

Viability is determined by how much money you can bank and whether you can withstand blowback from past indiscretions, missteps or wayward relatives.

Take Hillary Clinton, for example. She is weathering attacks about donations from foreign interests to the Clinton Foundation, her use of private email as secretary of state and influence peddling by her younger brother. Mixed in there is the weirdly timed revival of Monica Lewinsky's involvement with Bill Clinton. All this baggage has taken a toll in Hillary Clinton's confidence level, but not her electability. She still leads the field by solid margins.

Clinton isn't alone in vetting political laundry, though in some cases, the vetting doesn't appear intentional. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee flubbed Sunday news show questioning about his endorsement of a diabetes drug that health professionals claim has no proven value. Huckabee, who entered the GOP presidential race last week, also faced questions about his ethics as governor when he purportedly asked friends to shower him with gifts.

Senator Marco Rubio is under the microscope because of his relationship to a political super daddy in Florida. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush has received scrutiny for some of his business associations. Former HP CEO Carly Fiorina has been criticized for her performance as the top dog at the high tech giant, for running a bungling campaign for the U.S. Senate and not ever holding elected office.

Then there is retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson who has won right-wing disciples, but raised the eyebrows or just about everyone else for some of his political comments, such as one that coupled homosexuality with pedophilia and bestiality. He also called Obamacare the "worst thing to happen" since slavery.

Carson's jaw-dropping comments have poached on political space normally occupied by Senator Ted Cruz, who once compared Obamacare to Nazism, but now has enrolled in the national health insurance exchange, and former Senator Rick Santorum, who proudly told the National Rifle Association he gave ammo to his wife for her birthday.

For voters straining to find out what presidential wannabes plan to do about issues such as fighting Islamic State jihadists here and abroad, negotiating international trade deals or reducing income inequality, they will have to wait. This isn't the time to promise what you will do; it is time to air out what you have done. And raise money, piles of money.

This is the American way of winnowing the field of hopefuls. Air dirty laundry early while asking big donors for millions in donations. The candidates who can land on their feet and bag the most campaign cash will be the ones we ultimately get to vote on, whether we like it or not.

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.