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With 'Winning Directions,' a full-blown election campaign is just a few bucks away

By Traci Hukill

JUST ONE MORE week and it will all go away: the baby-kissing, the flesh-pressing, the mudslinging, the mailbox stuffing. And in the wake of the Nov. 3 election results, a fresh crop of disgusted citizens will no doubt decide they could do a better job on the school board or council or House Judiciary Committee themselves and start planning their own campaigns. That, of course, means kissing babies, pressing flesh, slinging mud and stuffing mailboxes, all of which require panache and planning. There to assist them--at least with the planning part--is Winning Directions, "your one-stop political campaign store." And they'll do it for a pittance, campaign consultantwise.

The San Francisco-based consulting clearinghouse has taken upon itself the task of making local campaigning affordable. Born of the efforts of two political consultants, Kevin Reilly and Anthony Fazio, Winning Directions can take a flummoxed candidate by the hand and usher him or her through the flaming labyrinth that is self-promotion. First there's a logo designed by the graphics staff, then a portrait, and perhaps a snappy headline and life summary for a handcard or brochure. Letterhead and those two-color mailers that clog the post office trash cans during October follow. Door hangers, buttons, oven mitts! Ball caps, T-shirts, Web sites! All for what people in politics consider affordable: a starter kit consisting of logo, letterhead, fundraising remittance envelope, handout card and booklet to reach 5,000 people costs $2,500.

And there is ample opportunity to spend real money. Depending on budgetary constraints, Winning Directions can work up a little radio or TV spot for a few grand. Big cheeses won't want to miss out on polling services and voter data, the better to massage their messages and get to know the circuitry operating in the crania of the mysterious masses.

Although co-founder Reilly notes that for most local campaigns, the appropriate medium of choice is direct mail or newspaper ads, he's quick to add that Winning Directions is much more than a print shop. "Not only can they get the products, but they can call on our expertise," he says. "On some level, what they're getting from us is free consulting, actually. If you're going to do a logo for someone, you need to spend some time with that person in order to have a sense of who that candidate is."

Expertise, indeed. Fazio's client list includes Dianne Feinstein, Richard Gephardt, Ann Richards and Jackie Speier. If memory serves, those people ran successful campaigns. So did Reilly's notable customers, among them Nancy Pelosi and former state school supe Bill Honig.

There may be grumps in our midst who think it's a little too easy to run for office as it is: any freak with a fat wallet can start slapping up signs all over town or even the country, as most of our recent presidential elections can attest. But that's the itchy truth about democracy--it only says that anyone may run for office. It does not guarantee that anyone actually can.

Thinking we smelled a lefty impulse behind this leveling of the campaign playing field, we queried Reilly as to any, ahem, "philosophical convictions" that may have begotten this political consulting group to The People. Was it disgust with a corrupt political system biased toward insider power-brokering and rich dilettantes? Hope for a revolution from the ground up to give us fresh leadership for a new tomorrow?

Nah, not really. Says Reilly, "That's a part of it, in that what we're trying to do is make the products necessary to win an election available to everybody and to make it less confusing to run for office."

Publicist Mike Nolan cuts to the chase, citing Bureau of Labor statistics indicating that there are 500,000 elected offices in the country, with three or four candidates on average vying for each one. "I'd like to think there's something charitable and democratic about what we're doing," he says, "but this is a profitable business. And we see a niche in the number of people running for local office."

For more info, visit www.winningdirections.com.

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From the October 29-November 4, 1998 issue of Metro.

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