The U.S. 2016 Presidential Elections: A look ahead from Washington

The U.S. Presidential elections are a year away, but already it has been a noisy summer of political campaigning. Jason Jarrell, Director of Interel's Global Public Affairs practice, sat down with The Honorable Richard Pombo, former U.S. Congressman and principal of the Washington government relations firm Gavel Resources, to make sense of the current state of the U.S. elections as well as what it means for public affairs in Washington.

So far the media has largely focused on the more sensational elements of the U.S. Presidential race, but as we move forward what do you think will be the defining policy issues of the elections?

When we look at the vast number of candidates seeking their party’s nomination for the U.S. Presidency it’s important to keep in mind that the candidates who peak early often cannot sustain their positions. Remember, the 2012 Presidential primary season saw a number of Republican candidates as the front runner before they ultimately dropped back in the polls.

In the 2016 primaries expect immigration reform to continue to be a major issue.  Every candidate will attempt to present their own unique and judicious solutions. The economy will remain a major issue – the weak job market and general lack of confidence in the trajectory of the U.S. economy by the average voter. Finally, expect that the perceived ability of a candidate to manage national security will be significant in winning voter confidence. 

To outside observers, the U.S. presidential election system can appear rather arduous given the various caucuses, primaries, conventions as well as the electoral college.  What are some of the key events for businesses to watch for?  

Yes, the U.S. Presidential elections can get a bit complicated as it is a long, multi-stage process that really amplifies existing policy issues and can introduce new ones, sometimes unexpectedly.  A lot of this might be noise early in the process, but the political discussions really begin to crystalize through the primaries and caucuses that move state to state to select a presidential nominee from each party.  It’s actually a good barometer to gauge public opinions on issues and a bellwether in terms of what policy priorities might be in the next administration, regardless of outcome.

Party conventions are an interesting opportunity for engagement as these events concentrate so many political influencers at one place and time.  And don’t forget the presidential nominees will already be mapping out their administrations and forming transition committees ahead of the elections.

You served in Congress for more than 15 years and have witnessed a number of big elections.  From a public affairs perspective, how does Washington change in an election year in terms of rule-making and engaging with government stakeholders? 

In every major election cycle policy issues have more volatility, so politicians more narrowly consider their approach on major issues and carefully weigh the potential impact.  Simultaneously, there are more pressures to take a stance on issues, either through a vote, a floor speech, or the press.

In a presidential election year, when the incumbent is retiring, there is always a major push within that party to achieve the unfulfilled agenda of the President.  Washington insiders who are aware of the remaining goals of the President’s administration have a lot to gain or lose in 2016.  

How is TTIP currently perceived on the Hill and what do you think the prospects are for the trade agreement after the elections?

Trade will continue to be a major issue in the U.S. as many see new trade agreements as the driver to future economic expansion and growth. While the two parties have generally taken differing positions on trade and TTIP, a Republican Congress and Republican President are seen as more likely to produce expanded trade opportunities. 

Elections aside, how has government relations in Washington evolved over the last decade and how do you see it developing over the next 5-10 years in the U.S. in general?

Government relations in Washington, D.C. have dramatically changed due to the 24 hour news cycle and the public’s ease of access to policy information through the Internet.  While a good thing, this dynamic can make it more challenging to have “good information.”  Relationships and knowledge as to the inner workings of the political bodies is thus vital as businesses need to be able to react quickly to changing circumstances.  Having 25 years of experience in Washington, I can say it’s more important now than ever to be have the right inputs for accurate, timely information and to be agile – particularly in a big election year! 

The Honorable Richard W. Pombo: Principal, Gavel Resources, U.S. House of Representatives 1992 – 2007, Chairman of the Resources Committee, Vice-Chairman of the Agriculture Committee

Gavel Resources (www.gavelresources.com) is part of the Interel Washington Group – a network of boutique public affairs firms delivering specialized public affairs advice and engagement strategies for local and global clients with issues in the USA.

This article was originally featured in the British American Business Network Magazine. View the issue here.