Planning with Certainty for an Uncertain Congress.
In the weeks leading up to an election, organizations, commentators, and analysts run wild with speculation: how the electoral college could break down, what it would take for Democrats to take back the Senate, what Republicans would need to do to hold on to their majority, how the Supreme Court factors into all of this, and so on. The majority of this speculation is partisan—it’s people hoping their party wins and then determining what would be necessary. However, any organization with public affairs objectives has to contend with every possible reality in their long-term planning. The party margins will almost certainly be thin or nonexistent. As a result, the extreme ends of either caucus ( staunch conservatives in the Republican ranks, progressive members on the Democratic side) will have more sway in the chamber than ever before. It’s best to come prepared, whatever the outcome might be. Be Targeted and Intentional Start by identifying the senators who represent you, the state in which you’re headquartered, or those who have delivered previous legislative victories for your cause. Next, look at one of the most powerful committees on Capitol Hill—Senate Appropriations—and identify which relevant subcommittees have jurisdiction over your industry. Think Post-Election Once you’ve identified your key committees and subcommittees, determine whether their specific members are in jeopardy of losing their elections, if they’re safely going to be reelected, or if they aren’t up for reelection in 2020 at all. We recommend FiveThirtyEight, Real Clear Politics, or UVA’s Sabato’s Crystal Ball for those insights, though, as recent years have shown, no polling model is perfect. Once you identify your priority senators, you will have a better understanding of where to allocate resources and how to tackle your legislative priorities. Tailor Your Messaging The last thing you want to do at the start of a new Congress or administration is scramble to get your organization’s messaging crafted and approved. The window between election day and inauguration is an opportunity to run internal or external focus groups, identify your top legislative priorities for the new year, and subsequently determine how, when, and where you want to communicate those priorities. The best way to approach crafting messaging is to split your points into two categories for Republican and Democratic lawmakers. While your priorities remain steadfast and constant, the way you go about communicating to your congressional audiences should vary. Regardless of the outcome of the election, you will likely need to find bipartisan support—come equipped to the new year with messages that will resonate with both sides of the aisle. Remember the House Ultimately, while the composition of the Senate is in question, the House is likely to remain under Democratic control. Depending on what committees and subcommittees your targeted senators sit on, your organization might want to consider investing more resources into cultivating relationships inside of the House, where the balance of power is unlikely to change. In the event that you lose a key champion in the Senate, you’ll want to have one or more active proponents in the House that can bring your messaging into the other chamber. If you’re not sure where to begin on your bipartisan list, most committees or subcommittees of interest in the Senate have comparable counterparts in the House. The bottom line is that nothing should be left to chance. 2021 will bring its own set of challenges as well as a plethora of opportunities. The organizations that will thrive in an unprecedented legislative environment will be prepared.