If you're running President Obama's re-election campaign and you want to test how certain themes will play in Peoria, what to do? Turn to your pollsters? Convene focus groups? Test your message before a friendly audience?
All of the above, probably. But if you're smart, you won't have your candidate do the on-the-ground testing. You'll have a surrogate do it. That way, you can smooth out any rough edges - either in how the message is delivered or how it is received - by the time your candidate hits the hustings in earnest.
That's what we saw last week when Vice President Joe Biden dropped by Wynmoor Village, a 9,000-resident "adult condominium community" in Coconut Creek, Fla., just north of Fort Lauderdale. Speaking to about 400 retirees, Biden said that he and President Obama are committed to strengthening Medicare and Social Security. His big sound bite:
"Make no mistake: If Republicans in Congress and their 'Amen Corner' of Romney, Santorum, and Gingrich get their hands on the White House, they will end Medicare as we know it."
To some, Biden's punch line might have sounded just a bit familiar.
Back in 1995, Democrats were fighting something called the Medicare Preservation Act, a "reform" plan led by Newt Gingrich, who was then the Speaker of the House, and Bob Dole, who would soon become the 1996 GOP presidential nominee. Rep. Sam Gibbons, a Democrat from Florida who'd been the acting chairman of House Ways and Means Committee, came up with the idea of saying that the legislation would put "an end to Medicare as we know it." The Medicare Preservation Act fizzled.
That's not to say that things won't be different this time around; Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Gingrich, and Ron Paul may well persuade voters that Medicare needs to be fixed their way. But the smart money says that we haven't heard the end of the "end-of-Medicare-as-we-know-it" message. - Bill Hogan
[A note on Biden's "Amen Corner" reference: The vice president was probably invoking Andy Razaf's famous jazz standard, "Shoutin' in That Amen Corner," popularized by Mildred Bailey and the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra in 1935 (below), not the three-hole turn at Augusta National Golf Club - home of the upcoming Masters Tournament - that was famously christened Amen Corner in 1958 by Herbert Warren Wind, the legendary golf writer (and not-so-legendary jazz aficionado).]