The Selling of a Bond

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(Sacramento, CA)
Tuesday, February 28, 2006

In the mid-90’s much of California was still re-building following the Loma Prieta quake in the Bay Area and the Northridge Earthquake…  1996 was the year for a statewide bond measure aimed at shoring up bridges.
 SOUND: “We’re strengthening California’s bridges and highway overpasses to save lives in a major earthquake but we need Prop 192 to finish the job…”
This ad features a Caltrans engineer in a busy construction zone on a bridge, making the argument for bond funding…  He’s no movie star candidate igniting the voting public with charisma, but Republican political consultant Richard Temple says an engineer in this case, is the perfect pitchman. That’s because voters relate to his expertise… and they DO read the fine print.

 “They have to believe there’s a real need for the bond, and that is an appropriate use of bond borrowing as opposed to something that should be kept in the budget,” says Temple.  
Temple worked on the bridge retrofit measure that ended up with nearly sixty-percent of the vote…. He says the political consultant has three challenges:  One: show the need,  two: show how the money will be spent and three: explain where it will go in voters’ hometowns.  After all, he says research shows we’re most interested in how the money will benefit our own communities… And all that in sixty-seconds or less.
SOUND:   “Prop 192 will strengthen over one-thousand structures including 224 in the bay area. It’ doesn’t raise taxes and guarantees the funds can only be used for earthquake retrofitting.”
Ads like this one - are often targeted to specific regions… This one aired in the San Francisco Bay Area, where voters approved the measure overwhelmingly.  Behind the scenes of such successes are political consultants, constantly conducting polls and focus groups to gauge how we’re receiving campaign messages.  They use that information to target ads and mailers to particular demographics or areas.  However, all that hard work doesn’t always guarantee a slam-dunk, according to Political consultant Paul Mandabach.  “I’ve never heard ‘this is a great time to go ask for money,” he says.
According to Mandabach, before a campaign even gets off the ground, there are warning signs to watch for—he says voters pay attention to the economic climate.  A bad economy or a budget deficit could kill a campaign.  But in the end he says sometimes it’s still worth a gamble. “You know  if you have polling that shows that, hey, people are still, despite these headwinds, despite tough economy and tough situation with the deficit, people may still be willing to go ahead on bonds, then I’d say you oughta consider it.”
As for this year, polls are already underway to gauge voters’ appetites for borrowing money. Research Director Mark Baldassare with the Public Policy Institute of California says a recent survey of bond proposals shows people are in the mood. “The governor’s proposal to have a 25-billion dollar bond for transportation and infrastructure had about six in ten likely voters supporting it so it was supported by about a two-to-one margin,” he says.
And Baldassare says the support goes up as the bond amount goes down. “Ten billion dollars for transportation and infrastructure… we saw even more support.”
And some campaign work has already begun… Democratic Senate leader Don Perata started early with television ads to sell his ideas for bonds… As for the Governor, he’ll likely push bond proposals while also raising money for his own re-election.  Lawmakers and the Governor say their end goal is to present a bond package together, no doubt hoping for a result much like the winning bridge retrofit measure ten years ago.