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Groups Lobbying for a Shoutout in the SOTU

“Our enemies as well as our allies listen to this speech,” one lobbyist said. “It’s about jobs and the economy, but we also have problems in Iran and North Korea. And there are other things that have to make it in that speech.”

Those decisions are made at the highest levels.

No matter how an item makes it into the speech — whether it comes from an outside influence or from an administration staffer or the president himself — once the commander in chief utters it, lobbyists say, it’s “go time.”

“There’s very little influence that
K Street’s going to have in terms of what goes into the speech,” said John Michael Gonzalez, a Democratic strategist and lobbyist at Peck, Madigan, Jones & Stewart. “But they will take full advantage of it once it’s done. If your issue gets mentioned in the speech, you’ve got to be ready to go.”

Lobbyists and nonprofit activists say they will live-tweet their reactions — positive and negative — during the address. They plan to post blog entries, fire off press releases and ramp up their outreach to Capitol Hill in the hours and days after the speech.

“It is a big stage, but in terms of nuanced messages, it’s not always the most appropriate vehicle,” said Lisa Gilbert of Public Citizen. That means there’s a lot of room for explaining and mobilizing interest.

“Public Citizen is ready to praise the administration if they do the right thing and ready to yell if they say the wrong thing in the State of the Union,” she added.

If the president does touch on a particular cause, the lobbyists behind it say they don’t owe anything to the White House. However, they are likely to work and strategize together.

David French, the National Retail Federation’s senior vice president for government relations, said that last year his group hyped Obama’s stance on swipe-fee legislation.

This year, the retail lobby sent a letter to Obama touting the sector’s benefits to the nation’s economy, setting out its agenda and urging the president to use his State of the Union to call for those policies. The retail group hasn’t yet heard back from the White House, French said.

But, he said, he expects the president will touch on one of those priorities — corporate tax reform — in the speech. “Our goal is to talk about it, not just once or twice, but throughout the year and build momentum for consensus for 2013,” he said.

The post-speech, rapid-response rollout could look like this: “First we might tweet, then we might blog, then we might do a press release,” French explained. “That’s a big deal when the White House, out of hundreds of policy priorities, picks one of your priorities.”

It sure is. Just ask Steve Flick of the Show Me Energy Cooperative in Missouri.

Though presidents typically use their State of the Union address for big-picture policy at home and abroad, sometimes they get into the nitty-gritty. In the 2006 State of the Union, President George W. Bush put switch grass in the public lexicon when he gave it a shoutout as an alternative energy source.

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