As South Carolina's Democratic Party Chairman from 2003 to 2007, I believed it was important to be neutral, and to try and help each candidate and his or her team equally. In explaining this conceptually, I sometimes told folks that my role was to be like Ryan Seacrest on American Idol -- when the candidates are on stage, I want each one of them to show well.
I expected that I would apply the same concept of neutrality to the current presidential election. But once I became the former chair, having finished my two terms this April, most of the Democratic candidates and several of the campaign managers asked me to consider an endorsement. The hardest thing to get past was my personal respect and appreciation for each of the candidates I've come to know so well. To choose one over the others is a little like being asked which of your children is your favorite.
The last time I volunteered with a Presidential campaign was in 1992 for Bill Clinton, but since then, my focus has been more on local and statewide elections. My decision to jump back into it ultimately came down to my personal belief that this election could well be the most important of my lifetime, and the conclusion that sitting on the sidelines -- not working for a cause or a candidate -- is not an option. So last week, I accepted Barack Obama's request to endorse his candidacy. (GreenvilleOnline did a write-up here.)
The endorsement is just the beginning, as the campaign has asked me to travel on behalf of the candidate here in South Carolina and perhaps in some of the other critical early voting states. Why Obama? Because it is time to change the course of politics in this country. To do that, we need a leader with a clear vision of unifying America. And in doing so, perhaps we will begin to change the world as well. For the better.
And as for the marketing side of things, while Erwin-Penland doesn't do political advertising, we have a number of fast-paced retail clients that have to react to changes in the marketplace very quickly -- just like what these campaigns and candidates are facing every day. So I'll continue to watch with great interest the media decisions made by the Obama team as well as everyone else campaigning in South Carolina. There is a lot to see, and I suspect, a lot to learn. It reminds me yet again of the similarities between politics and marketing -- which is perhaps why so many of us find them both intriguing and engaging.
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A former chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party, Joe Erwin is president of Erwin-Penland, a 180-person full-service advertising and marketing agency in Greenville, S.C., that is part of Interpublic Group of Cos.' Hill Holliday Connors Cosmopulos.
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