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Making the Message Count

Interest Groups Work To Get Their Issues Onto Campaign Trail

With Super Tuesday practically a countrywide contest, Washington, D.C.-based lobbying organizations are mobilizing their efforts in the 24 primary and caucus states this week with an eye toward raising the profile of their pet issues heading into the general election.

The hand-to-hand retail politics of the earliest primary states has given way to more expansive grass-roots efforts, advertising campaigns, bus tours and press gimmicks all aimed at getting candidates’ and voters’ attention on a host of issues and causes: health care, education and taxes, among others.

In one case, Divided We Fail — a health care-focused effort of the Business Roundtable, the Service Employees International Union and seniors lobby AARP — is stepping up its grass-roots work in the 24 Super Tuesday

states, AARP spokesman Drew Nannis wrote in an e-mail. The group has activated its volunteers at campaign events, with some perched on busy street corners waving signs during the morning and evening rush hours and “bird-dogging” candidates and their surrogates at rallies and events.

“Just in the last 24 hours, DWF volunteers were at events with Sens. Clinton and Obama in Colorado, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri,” Nannis said late last week. “Additionally, we had volunteers with Sen. McCain and Gov. Romney in California.”

On Super Tuesday, Divided We Fail volunteers will be stationed at key precincts — for example, Sen. Edward Kennedy’s (D-Mass.) polling place.

“We see February 5th as an opportunity to transition into our general election efforts with a significant presence that cannot be ignored,” Nannis added.

The small-business lobby, National Federation of Independent Business, is trying to win “earned media” — specific mentions in news stories and on radio shows in the Super Tuesday states, said the group’s national media director, Mike Diegel. “Here are issues — health care and tax relief — that are important to our members,” he said. “Our guy in Tennessee is doing some radio.”

NFIB also is helping its membership register to vote and is providing information on absentee voting. That will continue through to Election Day.

The American Cancer Society is out in the states working to get information to primary voters about cancer policies. As the primaries fold into the general election, this spring the group’s lobbying arm will launch a campaign-style bus tour called the “Fight Back Express” that will cruise through all the lower 48 states and will continue on the road through Election Day.

“We’re trying to create a national movement among people touched by cancer, to really make sure candidates understand there’s a lot more that could be done right now to save lives,” said Daniel Smith, president of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.

Though it will not endorse specific candidates, the group is also working on a voter guide. “The bus is a great, literally, vehicle to get our message out,” Smith added. “As we get closer to the election, we plan to do voter mobilization with our folks who care about cancer.”

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