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Staging the Perfect Announcement

Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack (D) appeared on "The Daily Show" Monday night to show off his sense of humor, the latest in a long line of politicians willing to brave a one-on-one with host Jon Stewart in hopes of wooing his loyal viewership.

Vilsack brought Stewart a toy duck, an acknowledgment of Stewart's running joke that the Democrat's name sounds quite similar to "AFLAC," the insurance company known for its spokesduck. (YouTube has the Vilsack appearance here.)

A stop on Stewart's show has become de rigueur for politicians with an eye on the White House; the goal is to show they can laugh at themselves -- an essential trait for any successful candidate.

But Stewart's show is not simply a chance to showcase a bit of self-deprecating humor. In 2003, former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards (D) actually announced that he was planning to run for president on Stewart's show, following that up the next day with a more formal announcement in Robbins, N.C.

For his 2008 run for president, Edwards is planning to announce in the Lower 9th Ward, the part of New Orleans that was hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina. That announcement will send a vastly different signal than the hip and edgy kick-off on Stewart's show in 2004. Back then Edwards was the new thing in national politics; now he must show he is serious enough for the job at hand.

Announcements are critical when it comes to sending a message to voters about the kind of campaign a candidate plans to run. They draw widespread new coverage and often provide voters with their first glimpse of a candidate.

So, I was more than a little intrigued when Fix friends Chuck Todd (of The Hotline) and Steve Rabinowitz (of Rabinowitz/Dorf Communications) invited me to attend a "Political Communication" class they teach at Johns Hopkins University's satellite branch in D.C. In the class I attended, the students presented their ideas for 2008 presidential announcements, as well as a broader messaging plans for likely candidates.

The ideas ran the gamut from strange to scintillating. Here's a sampling of the best (and oddest):

* Darcy Sawatzki proposed that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) announce her candidacy on NBC's "Saturday Night Live" on Feb. 3, 2007. ("Live from New York, I'm running for president!") Why SNL? Sawatzki said it would give Clinton a national audience, turn the preconceived notion that she's a too-serious political wonk on its head, show that her political career is still rooted in New York, and also serve as a potent lead-in for the Sunday talk shows the following day. Following the SNL announcement, Sawatzki proposed that Clinton hit the campaign trail for a week -- giving a series of policy speeches and laying out a vision for the country.

* Amanda Reynolds went in another direction in her idea for Clinton's announcement. She envisioned Clinton announcing her candidacy at a free health clinic in New York, followed by a speech making clear why she was running at Wellesley College -- her alma mater -- the following day. Reynolds also had some of the best message ideas we heard all night. On re-introducing Clinton to the national audience: "An ordinary woman who has had an extraordinary life." And her one-sentence message for a Clinton campaign: "Make America a better place to live, work and raise a family."

* Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) should go on a fact-finding mission in Iraq over the 2007 President's Day weekend and return on Sunday to informally announce his candidacy on NBC's "Meet the Press," argued Noah Wolfe. Then on May 2 -- the day after the fourth anniversary of President Bush's "Mission Accomplished" speech, Wolfe would have Kerry make a formal announcement at a military base where American troops are heading out to (or returning from) the Mideast. Wolfe's thinking was that the only chance Kerry has in the race is to make it entirely about Iraq, drawing parallels with Vietnam and painting himself as the only candidate able to guide the country out of the war.

* Rebecca Stewart had an intriguing idea for former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani's announcement, which she suggested he make over next month's Martin Luther King Day weekend. On the Sunday before the holiday's official observance, Stewart had Giuliani participating in a community service event in Harlem that would be purposely kept quiet but leaked to a few choice media outlets. Then, on Monday, Giuliani makes a formal declaration of his candidacy in front of the Engine 24 firehouse in Manhattan -- a visual reminder of his leadership following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Stewart also gets credit for coining the best word of the night -- "frienemy" -- to describe Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) relationship with President George W. Bush.

* How about a 50-state, month-long tour in which New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announces his independent candidacy for president? And did we mention he would run in a 5K race in each state? Or how about a Bloomberg-sponsored concert featuring U2 and Toby Keith in Iowa on the day of that state's caucuses in an attempt to overwhelm the media frenzy likely to follow the voting? All that and more came from the brain of Erin Buechel Wielzorek.

So how would you have the likely 2008 candidates make their official announcements? Use the comments section below to share your ideas.

By Chris Cillizza  |  December 20, 2006; 5:30 AM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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