BOISE, Idaho -- For 20 years, Greg Strimple was a fixture in the Republican Party's New York-Washington campaign machine and also worked for corporate clients such as AARP, AT&T, Fox, GE and the NFL.
By 2009, he had four young children and had spent all but 89 days of the year away from home.
"I needed to create some better life balance," said Strimple, who moved his family to Boise in 2010.
He said he and his wife, Kari, a stay-at-home-mom, used a Venn diagram to pick the city. Their intersecting sets: the West, good public schools, healthy economy, modest taxes, lower cost of living, easy airport access, good weather and fly fishing.
"When you start doing that, quickly it narrows to Boise," said Strimple, 45. "I seriously considered Bend, (Ore.), but as I was going through the process they decided they were going to raise taxes even higher and I said, 'No, not for me.'"
Strimple grew up in the Washington, D.C., area, graduated from Denison University in Ohio and later returned to D.C. His dad, who was a leader in Veterinarians for Nixon, had clients who included 10 members of President Reagan's Cabinet.
Strimple's mom taught in a preschool where Wall Street Journal reporter Al Hunt's kids attended. Hunt introduced Strimple to famed GOP strategist Ed Rollins, who hired Strimple as a TV adman to help elect GOP House candidates in 1989-90. Later, Strimple managed campaigns and learned polling. In 2000, he moved his company, Mercury Public Affairs, to New York.
He was a senior adviser to John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign and worked on two key recent GOP wins, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in 2009 and Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk in 2010.
In 1996, he polled and oversaw independent expenditures for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Strimple is back to work for the NRSC this year.
When Strimple moved to Boise two years ago, he reunited with Dan Lavey, a veteran of former Oregon Sen. Gordon Smith's campaigns. Lavey runs the Portland office of Gallatin Public Affairs. Strimple has office space in Gallatin's Boise office and is part of a joint venture with Gallatin to work on ballot measures.
Strimple sat down for a Q&A with the Statesman last week.
Q: You spend a lot of time thinking about capturing voters in the middle. How does it look in 2012?
A: The center is fiscally conservative and socially tolerant. It's willing to side with Republicans on economic issues and Democrats on education, health care, environment. This is going to be an economic election and I imagine the center is going to break well for Republicans.
Q: President Obama is making a big deal out of Mitt Romney's years with Bain Capital and needling him about releasing more tax returns. Is that working?
A: The biggest problem with the Democrat approach is they're still in a New Deal, haves vs. have nots conversation. I've been asking this question for years: Many more people consider themselves "haves" than "have nots." Even people who make far less money than you'd consider a "have" consider themselves "haves." The campaign they're running is antithetical to the American Dream.
When you ask people what's the biggest economic problem facing America, over half say "lack of a plan." Another 25 percent say the value of their retirement account. Only 24 percent say what I would call the traditional Democratic carping on lack of jobs, value of a home and personal debt.
The debate needs to be about where is America going and how are we going to grow the economy. Over 60 percent of Americans own stock. It's vitally important to their economic situation and growing their nest egg. The Obama campaign basically wages a war against that system and fails to offer a plan.
Q: Are you predicting a Romney victory?
A: I think it's Romney's to lose. It's going to be very difficult for Obama to change the subject from the economy. But what I think both candidates are sorely missing is a big new idea. The American electorate has been trapped in a debate over the Bush tax cuts since 2000. ... Unfortunately, the divided government we have needs crisis to move forward.
Q: What's been the impact of the tea party and occupy movements?
I think both scare the bejesus out of the center. But the brand of economics that the tea party is espousing, more limited government and less spending, is more politically palatable to the center than the kind of socialist economics of Occupy Wall Street. So, to the extent there's both, Republicans benefit.
Q: How does your corporate work differ from politics?
A: In the political work, you're trying to divide the electorate to gain a majority. In most of the corporate/issues work, you're trying to unite the electorate behind your company or your idea. At the same time, the swing vote in American politics is the same thing in the corporate image stuff. You're trying to get the center of the electorate to align with you.
Q: Talk about your work for the NFL.
A: We took on the big cable companies to get carriage of the NFL Network in a number of states (including North and South Carolina, Ohio, Indiana, Texas and Wisconsin). The goal was to pressure the cable companies to get them to acquiesce and carry the network.
You can't mess with the Packers, you can't mess with the Cowboys, you can't mess with Peyton Manning. It was a bad position for the cable companies to defend not carrying the show.
Q: You've been watching Idaho politics for a couple of years now. What do you make of the landscape?
A: There's no Democratic Party in this state; the bigger party than the Democrats is the independents.
I'm watching the fight inside the Republican Party between fiscal conservative libertarians who I call socially tolerant, and fiscal conservative social conservatives. And I'm wondering whether there's going to be a shift inside the Idaho electorate where the independents and maybe even some Democrats join with the Republican libertarian wing and create a new majority. I think (Lt. Gov.) Brad Little could be that candidate.
Q: Can you see yourself working for Little in that vein?
A: I know him a little bit, but I don't think so. In a one-party state to be something different than the traditional candidate is a very scary position. It takes a lot of chutzpah. My sense is that my unorthodoxy would scare somebody like him. But he's a very impressive guy.
Q: In early October 2008, you said the McCain campaign was "looking forward to turning a page on this financial crisis." You were blasted in the media and Obama seized on the phrase, attacking McCain in speeches and a TV ad. How was that for you on a human level?
A: We'd announced that day we were no longer going to play in Michigan, a place we should have never been. The charge I was given was to be very assertive and do the stiff-upper-lip on it. So that's what I did.
The campaign's reaction was "welcome to the club. You're No. 432 who's gotten skewered in the media." From our perspective, the media was never going to write something favorable about us because they were having a love affair with Obama.
My wife felt very much like, "My poor husband's out on a limb." But that's what you sign up for. Everybody has scars in this game.
Q: You were among five top strategic advisers to McCain. What did you think of the choice of Sarah Palin for vice president?
A: The best choice was (independent Sen. Joe) Lieberman, and that got killed with a trial balloon. (Former Pennsylvania Gov.) Tom Ridge would have been great, but he was pro-choice. If you're John McCain and you're a maverick, it's very hard at the last moment where you're about to win over the establishment to buck them again.
Q: You were among a group that talked about telling McCain the race was effectively over on the eve of the final debate. What was your view?
A: At that point, I did not think the race was over. ... I don't think you can tell a candidate that the race is done. No one else quit, why should the candidate?
Who knows what Barack Obama could have said in the last month? And certainly, Joe Biden said plenty of stupid stuff that we were running ads against.
Q: Your joint venture will work on initiatives and referendums in the West. Talk about that.
A: As the Pacific Northwest becomes more anti-business, anti-jobs, I think there's going to be a lot more companies who say, "I gotta protect my business interests." A lot of corporate clients assume that because some legislator or regulator is going after them that everyone's against them.
What you find out frequently through public opinion research is, like the Nixon Silent Majority, most people share the views of the business community. If you can align that majority behind your client, you're going to win. The initiative and referendum business is going to be looking to do things like that.
)2012 The Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho)
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