John McCain was widely ridiculed several weeks ago for fielding reporter's questions in the cheese aisle of a grocery store. But the location of the impromptu press conference was hardly random. The McCain camp, in a strategy memo, has pinpointed grocery stores as an important venue for the Senator to push his economic agenda.
In a McCain campaign "Economic Communications Plan" that was obtained by the Huffington Post, an aide to the Senator lays out several themes, tactics and objectives to shore up the Arizona Republican's standing on the economy and paint Barack Obama as a "job killing machine."
"Our polling tells us that Americans are still not tuned into what the candidates might do to fix the economy," reads the memo. "We have an opportunity to fill in that gap."
The strategy, which was authored by Taylor Griffin -- a veteran of the Bush White House and Treasury Department who serves McCain as a senior adviser -- seems built around traditional themes. The McCain campaign will paint Obama as being "aligned with trial lawyers" and "unions (card check, trade, education reform)," and push the frame that he "raises taxes" and "will kill jobs."
In contrast, McCain will be positioned as a bold leader on economic matters, someone who has a "record of taking on corporate interests" and will "fight speculation driving up prices of oil and food" as well as "the lawsuit culture."
"People are tired of big corporations, lobbyist and special interests who they feel prosper at their expense," the memo reads. "People must understand that John McCain is not only thinking of their future, but their children's futures as well."
To do this, McCain's camp plans to utilize a number of tactics, including "family budget roundtables, grocery store visits," and "roundtable events heavily tilted towards women to discuss the pressures the economy is placing on family finances and how McCain's plan would help." The campaign also will work the fourth estate. As detailed in Taylor's memo, McCain will "provide compelling set of programming and surrogate activity to drive media interest," and "mobilize economists in target states supporting the McCain plan to engage the media in support of our plan."
Framing, indeed, is a major component of the strategy document. Aides to the Senator envision an "All Star Economists Project" that would "use prominent economists to bolster [the] intellectual case for the McCain plan" -- see the much-disputed list of 300 -- and "roll out Nobel Prize winners endorsing [his] plan." On a local level, the Senator will rely on a "Small Business Network," in which small business owners would serve "as local surrogates for the McCain plan... write letters to the editor, op-eds and participate in surrogate events."
One Griffin bullet point made its way into a recent public McCain statement: emphasizing similarities between the Senator's prescriptions for Iraq and those he is offering for the economy.
"Draw the parallel with the same kind of bold leadership that McCain demonstrated in pushing the surge strategy that allowed us to win in Iraq. Need that same vision, intensity and leadership to attack our economic problems."
The communications strategy is, according to Griffin's accompanying email: "working it's way around the campaign.... Think it can help us focus."
Reached on his cell phone, Griffin said he was in the middle of a conversation and couldn't talk. The McCain campaign did not immediately return requests for comment.