CLOUT: St. Louisan Clifford Franklin Lit The Fuse With African-American Voters For The Obama Campaign

CLOUT is a regular feature from Beyond November that profiles the pols, pals and pundits who influence the candidates and their campaigns. 

This interview for Beyond November was conducted and written by Tim Poor, a former Washington correspondent and national editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Name:  Clifford Franklin

Party:  Democrat

Job:  Chief Executive Officer, Fuse Advertising

Clout:  Franklin founded the St. Louis ad agency in 1997, along with his wife and brother, carving out a niche firm that creates and places corporate and political advertising designed to appeal to minority voters, but which is also “fused” to broader audiences as well.  Clients have included Entergy, CNN,  Hyundai, IBM, Anheuser-Busch, and a number of Democratic candidates.

But Franklin’s biggest client has been President Barack Obama, for whom he developed ads for African-American voters in battleground states that were key to Obama’s victories in 2008 and last Tuesday.  CNN reported that Obama for America spent about $2.8 million with the firm during the just-ended campaign.

“We’re extremely proud of the turnout,” Franklin told Beyond November.  “In key battleground states it was higher than projected.  It’s been a good run for us.  We’ve been messaging throughout the year, insuring there would not be an enthusiasm gap.”  Franklin was impressed by Obama’s campaign gurus, David Axelrod and Plouffe.  “None of these guys had egos – it was truly about getting the president elected and re-elected.”

Franklin’s firm also worked on the successful U.S. Senate campaigns of Claire McCaskill in Missouri and Tim Kaine in Virginia.

Here are some of Franklin’s post-election thoughts:

Biggest thrill:

“Seeing the team recreate the magic of 2008.  We didn’t panic after the first debate. That we could play a small role in getting the first African-American president elected and re-elected, is a crowning joy – it’s almost surreal. “

Biggest disappointment:

Media coverage of the election.  “It’s almost like they’re hyping a Super Bowl game.  It’s not a game.  It’s people’s lives.  I had to turn off the major cable outlets.”

Biggest surprise:  None in the presidential race.  “Our internal numbers came out pretty accurate.”

Big picture: What will this election will mean for the United States?

“I think the economy is definitely coming back.  Things are changing.  Political discourse is so bad in America,  I’m hoping he (Obama) can be the unifying figure he wanted to be in 2008. It’s important for him to oversee the resurgence in America.”

Smaller picture – What will this election will mean for Missouri?

That Democrats did very well in statewide races – except for Obama – means racial divisions still matter in the state.  “Absolutely, race plays a factor,” said Franklin.  He hopes his high profile national work for Obama might translate into more local business. “We’ve been doing national campaigns since 2004, but rarely in the state of Missouri.  It’s always been a struggle for us to do business in our own hometown.  It baffles me.”

What the election means for 2014:

“What I hope is people see minority voters are engaged in the political process.  Most ballot initiatives do not target minority voters.  Minority targeting should be baked into the strategy from the beginning, (as in the Obama campaign), not as an afterthought in the last 30 days.  It’s my hope that campaign managers will see that and say, ‘Why don’t we try that?’ And I hope corporations see that.”

“I think race did play a role, when you look at the GOP and the demographics.”  But Franklin adds that it’s not just demographics, but the substance behind the numbers.  Romney scored low among Hispanics because of the anti-immigration stance he and the Republican party adopted, leading voters to think:  “These guys are not looking out for our best interests.”

What the election means for 2016:

“It comes down to how the economy does.  The GOP has to look at whether to run a moderate or a staunch conservative.  Democrats must duplicate the Obama campaign team.”

Message from the electorate to Republicans:

“We’re not stupid.”

Message from the electorate to Democrats:

“Keep fighting.  Years ago, Reagan coined the phrase ‘hand-wringing liberals.’  Now, Democrats are fighting back.”

Anything else?

“I believe great communications can transcend race.  A great brand can speak to a multitude of people. “

Posted in Campaign Coverage, CLOUT: Influential pols, pals & pundits, Commentary