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VIEW FROM THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL

In search of a soapbox [BY SASHA ISSENBERG]

In Hawaii, channel 110 belongs to Linda Lingle. For a year, the former Republican governor has undertaken an uphill run to win a Senate seat from the strongly Democratic state. This summer she became star of her own network: ll12 (“Linda Lingle 2012”) will, for 24 hours a day, broadcast only propaganda making the case for her candidacy.

The platform, nestled on the dial between the Fox News Channel and cnn on a cable system that covers nearly all of Hawaii, came cheap. Lingle spends only $2,500 (€2,000) a week for the airtime, which is less than Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will spend on a single 30-second commercial elsewhere.

The big story of an often dreary 2012 election year will be about the rush of new money into American politics, thanks to a 2010 Supreme Court decision freeing corporations and trade unions to spend on elections. Cue an unforeseen media scarcity crisis: in battleground states, most airtime desired by political advertisers in October will all have been reserved (Nickelodeon may still have some slots available). Those same advertisers seeking to communicate digitally – through web and mobile ads that can now be targeted geographically, or even at individual voters – are unlikely to find any digital inventory left for sale. A candidate or super-pac that manages to receive an unexpected influx of cash in the closing weeks of the race may encounter a peculiar predicament: nowhere to spend it.

Still, a candidate’s advisers will look to unload that cash. “Campaigns are wary of leaving money on the table for fear that will be blamed as the reason they lose,” says Scott Tranter of Republican consulting firm Vlytics. “Winning campaigns will not necessarily be the ones that raise the most money, but rather the ones that best utilise the resources they have.” As political operatives search for creative solutions, the American media business sees opportunities – and hundreds of millions of dollars in short-term stimulus – if it can lure desperate advertisers to new platforms by election day. Newspaper ad salespeople had given up on pitching political campaigns, which were fixated on moving images. But now the National Newspaper Association is aggressively marketing print to campaigns again, estimating that the total spend on newspaper ads could increase 50 per cent on two years ago to $450m (€365m), as one association consultant cheerfully told Campaigns & Elections, a trade magazine for the political industry.

Campaigns are most eager for more online video, since they can repurpose footage created for expensive shoots. It is no coincidence that this summer, two of the fastest-growing politically oriented digital outlets leapt into video: the Huffington Post by creating HuffPost Live, an online channel that goes live for 12 hours each day; and BuzzFeed by partnering with The New York Times to do joint video reports, starting at the party conventions.

Now the challenge is for journalists faced with a gloomy campaign to create enough interesting content to draw viewers. After all, ll12 is but a click away…

Three innovative ways that campaigns are spending money:

  1. Direct mail with video embedded in them.
  2. “Predictive-dialer” phone systems that allow volunteers to complete more calls by avoiding busy signals and non-answers.
  3. Lawn signs with customisable QR codes.

Liquid cash

Panama [CANAL COSTS]

Taking a ship through the Panama Canal will cost 15 per cent more come October. The canal generates around $940m (€760m) a year in profit; the increase is to pay for work that will double the famous canal’s capacity by 2014. With the prospect of circumnavigating Cape Horn the only alternative route, frustrated ship owners are left with little choice but to cough up.

Teaching plan

Canada [EDUCATION]

Canada’s regional Indian chiefs are taking education matters into their own hands. The Assembly of First Nations, a committee of 10 Aboriginal leaders, is in Ottawa/Gatineau this month, with no government support, to discuss treaty rights, funding and language. First Nations people make up around 800,000 of the country’s 34.5 million population and suffer from high levels of poverty. Many rely on groups such as the assembly to lobby the federal government. “First Nations leaders established education as a key priority, with our ultimate goal being control of First Nations education,” said national chief Atleo (above), the group’s leader who was re-elected this July.

Race to the finish

Brazil

Rio’s mayor, Eduardo Paes, took the Olympic flag in front of a worldwide audience at the end of the London Games, but there’s no guarantee he will still be in office by the end of October. He faces a re-election fight against Marcelo Freixo, who has campaigned against the city’s gangs.

STYLE LEADER NO.39, Pepe’s pipe and slippers

Pepe Mujica [URUGUAY]

In Uruguay, the septuagenarian president – more cuddly grandpa than cutthroat decision maker – is known as Pepe. Jose Alberto “Pepe” Mujica isn’t like most politicians. Believed to be one of the humblest leaders in the world, he donates around 90 per cent of his salary to charity. And when not making key decisions, he likes to drive around his farm outside Monte-video in his 1987 Volkswagen Beetle. The leftist president’s lack of opulence extends to his dress sense. Although he no longer appears with long, unkempt hair and stubble – a regular occurrence before his election triumph in 2009 – his style is relaxed.

“Mujica retains a fairly important level of informality in the way he dresses,” says Daniel Buquet, social sciences professor at Montevideo’s University of the Republic. “It has helped his success in terms of public image, support and votes.”

Mujica’s speaking style follows the same lack of formality – something that has caused a few diplomatic gaffes during his career. There’s clearly more to the Uruguayan than meets the eye. The former guerrilla leader spent over a decade in prison during the military dictatorship in the 1970s before rising to the country’s top position over 30 years later. Not bad for a cuddly grandpa.

Brushing up well:

  1. Although Mujica has kept his hairstyle under control recently, he can still look ruffled in public. He’s been known to wear a baseball cap when he’s on his farm or a boina (beret) when he’s going for a gaucho vibe.

  2. Mujica makes a point of never wearing a tie – something that social scientist Daniel Buquet says “goes against Uruguay’s political tradition”. Even at high-profile Mercosur meetings or when receiving foreign dignitaries, he’ll keep the open-neck look going but will smarten up with a navy jacket.

  3. One of Pepe Mujica’s signature pieces of clothing is his woolly cardigan, something that cements his image as a benevolent pensioner when in reality he’s a shrewd negotiator. The cardigan also keeps him warm from the Atlantic chill during Southern Cone winters.

  4. The president goes for simple trousers – purely functional and without an ounce of flashiness. It’s something that goes down well with the Uruguayan electorate, happy for other South American nations – invariably with bigger social problems – to hog the limelight.

Wheel of change

Chile [CARS]

Compared to other Latin American boomtowns such as Mexico City or Rio de Janeiro, Santiago has little traffic. That’s changing as Chileans buy cars as fast as their credit lines will allow. The nationwide fleet grew 37 per cent from 2006 to 2011. The number of car loans, many bearing annual interest rates of around 40 per cent, climbed just as fast.

Cars devour fuel in a country where a quarter of all imports are fossil fuels. Vehicle-oriented shopping malls are encircling the old walkable cities. Things may be changing though. Vehicle sales have levelled off this year, and traffic is driving a new boom: bicycle imports are up 52 per cent.

Caffeine high

Brazil [COFFEE]

The export of Brazilian coffee is expected to grow by up to 15 per cent this season. A total of 50 million 60kg bags is due to be produced – 34 million bags will be reserved for the foreign market.

Brazil is the world’s largest coffee producer and it is hoped that the increase will compensate for the 10 per cent drop in production in the second-largest producer, Vietnam. Plus, Brazilian coffee is better, says Guilherme Braga, general director of Brazil Coffee Export Association. “Coffee in Vietnam is robust, while Brazil’s predominance is Arabica.” Brazil is the world’s sixth-largest economy but it still relies on raw materials – including coffee – for almost half its exports.

Head to head

USA [ELECTION]

With Americans citing the economy as their chief concern this election, it’s unsurprising that domestic issues remain top as the country prepares to vote. This month’s televised foreign policy debate, scheduled for 22 October, marks the first chance for President Obama and Mitt Romney to face off regarding America’s role in the world. Expect Romney to claim Obama is weak against the threat of a nuclear Iran and short on resolve in his handling of Syria. Obama will likely capitalise on Romney’s lack of foreign policy experience, saying him and VP hopeful Paul Ryan are guided by the neo-conservative politics that dominated the Bush White House.

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