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When Barry Jackson, chief of staff for Ohio Congressman John Boehner, took a leave of absence to head the office charged with marketing the Republicans' Contract with America, the plan was controversial.

"The conventional wisdom was it was the stupidest thing the Republican Party could do," recalls Mr. Jackson, 34. "Considering the actions of Congress as a whole and the Clinton administration, many people thought it would have been simpler [for the Republicans] to say, `we are not them' and we could have coasted."

But the plan was supported by House Minority Whip Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), who liked the idea enough to prevail upon the Republican National Committee, the House Republican Conference and various Republican campaign committees to make the contract a major focus of the 1994 campaign.

While the news media paid little or no attention to the "contract" through most of the '94 election period, Mr. Jackson convinced candidates to sign on and use the contract as a focus of their own campaigns.

Advertising was minimal. TV ads incorporating the "contract," including space for local messages, was produced for congressional candidates to use, and a single Contract with America ad ran in TV Guide.

Still, it worked. While Mr. Jackson doesn't claim the Contract with America fueled the Republican win, he says it pulled Republicans together and gave them an agenda.

"In effect, the absence of a [presidential] agenda became an agenda," he says. "Most people thinking of [Contract with America] as a cheap political gimmick were not thinking ahead to the great political importance if we won."

Republicans feel that the groundwork laid last year instantly turned the Contract with America into a powerful brand when Republicans did win, positioning the party for the 1996 presidential election.

"There is still a great hesitancy to trust politicians, but it allowed us to move forward, to regain trust not only in the Republican Party but in Congress as an institution," says Mr. Jackson. "The fact we had [the program] made the president a bystander in the governing process."

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