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Joe Gandelman: The GOP’s new branding problem

ST. GEORGE, Utah — It stands on six acres, majestically 175 feet high, white against a bright blue Utah sky: the St. George Utah Temple, dedicated in 1877.

It was a work of religious necessity and love by Mormon pioneers including Republican Party presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s great-great grandfather, Miles Romney (July 13, 1806 – May 3, 1877), who was superintendent of the construction on the temple, Utah’s first Latter-day Saints temple. All that focus, intense concentration and time put in years ago built a visual “branding” for the city of St. George that will endure for years.

The Republican Party of 2012 now faces a similar prospect in its own branding — but not in the way you think.

No, I’m not referring to the heavy talk show host influence on the party’s tone and substance, or the power inroads made by party activists and Tea Party movement members against the Republican Party’s professional political establishment. I’m not even talking about severe imagery problems Republicans face among Latinos, African-Americans and non-Baby Boomer generations of women.

Today, across the country, Republicans seem to be working overtime to underwrite lawyers to either keep voters away from the polls who they feel might not vote for them or to control ballot listings that could siphon votes away from their Presidential nominee. Yes, there are GOP political spinner defensive talking points on this but, kiddies, when you look at the pattern, they just don’t convince.

In Virginia, ex-Republican Congressman Virgil Goode, Jr. has now qualified to be on the ballot. The state Republican Party is contending some signatures used to get him on the ballot are fraudulent — and they vow to get him off it. He’ll run as Presidential candidate for the conservative Constitution Party, with a boost from the Independent Green Party for championing spending more money on passenger rail. A Public Policy Polling poll suggests Goode could garner 5 to 9 percent of the vote, which could swing the state to Barack Obama.

The GOP’s problem: independent voters like being offered more choices. It’s an extremely sore point for some of them the way America’s political system is rigged to squelch third parties. Also: Goode is not some Joe Shmo, but someone who has been on Virginia’s political scene for 24 years. If the state Republican Party gets him off the ballot it’ll be a big story, and Republicans’ imagery will be hurt.

Meanwhile, Nevada has had a “None of the above” voting option on its ballot since 1976. But this year, for some strange reason — as a recent poll shows the state now at 49 percent Obama and 47.9 percent Mitt Romney — a Republican judge appointed by George Bush assigned himself to hear a legal challenge from the Republican National Committee to get it off the ballot and tried to nix it. Why didn’t the RNC go to court in 2004 when Bush was running for re-election?

The Associated Press: “A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco blocked the injunction... and had strong words for U.S. District Judge Robert Jones, who last month declared the voting option unconstitutional and struck it from the ballot.” The bottom line: this imagery will not help Romney and the GOP.

Why? Because it’s coupled with other imagery from GOP-written voter ID and access law controversies in some 10 states including Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, South Carolina and Texas. The current context matters. Romney desperately needed the Republican convention to flesh out his identity and likeability, but it instead branded itself the “You Didn’t Build That Empty Chair” convention. He got little or a negative bounce. The Democrats’ convention focused on reconstituting its winning coalition and wooing independents. Obama got a good bounce.

If Republicans’ legal measures to control how votes are cast and who can vote succeed, it will impact their imagery “branding.” Even if Republicans fail, the image of a frantically GOP trying to plug holes in a political sieve will be a blow to its branding edifice. One thing can be said to the GOP about their new image: “You did build it.”

Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers overseas and in the United States. He can be reached at