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Opinions of Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Columnist: Amoyaw, Sandy

The "Atta-Mills" Show on Broadway

In the months leading up to the time that he left Ghana for the US, the NDC Presidential Candidate Prof. John Atta-Mills has traveled across the country making speeches and doing retail politics in key battleground regions.

In New York the frequency and location of Prof Atta-Mills speeches differ sharply from those in 2004 and appear to break with the long-standing precedent that Ghana presidential candidates try to avoid-campaigning in the diaspora. He supplemented his speech with interviews with local media, generating positive coverage. Although he did not mention any possible challengers from the other political parties and avoided negative campaign, the target of his speeches was not lost on the audiences. He actually sounded like a candidate and a Presidential material as he received rousing ovations in articulating his platform for the 2008 elections . The ‘production’ started with the presentation of a bouquet of flowers by a graduate student of the Ivy League institution (Columbia University) at the upscale Presidential suite of the Marriott Marquis at Times Square. After exchanging pleasantries the first act came to an end for the night for Prof. Atta-Mills and his entourage to retire to bed and get ready for the following day’s ‘off-Broadway show’ in Worcester. The ‘production’ made a great showing in Worcester, MA on the 18th of August 2007. The reception was grand and Prof. Mills was presented with the keys to the city of Worcester. Another off-Broadway ‘gig’ was in Atlanta, Georgia where Prof. received a red carpet reception and later during the day gave a great speech articulating his vision for Ghana and also putting his platform in perspective.

After these two ‘gigs’ in Worcester and Atlanta, the ‘production’ went into hiatus for a couple of days. The hallmark of this ‘Broadway gig’ has been the felicitous and downright ingenious way the message and politicking are made to mix. In recent months in Ghana, the clever, quick-witted ‘Atta Mills show’ has been downplayed by schlock spectacles and hyped–up rival events of the ruling party. But lately with the ‘Atta-Mills show’ on the road and having been DIASPORIZED, diasporans have come to understand that substance and common sense emanated from Prof. Mills speeches and the handshaking retail campaigning. This strategy is more important and effective than fancy rhetoric and baseline politicking by other candidates.

Though not every charismatic politician with a marginal campaign and limited resources can win a presidency, some can carry a campaign through handshaking and sheer determination. When Party members started making their pitch about retail politics, their contention was that if Prof. Atta-Mills has any chance of winning, his toughest battle would be to prove to Ghanaians that he, unlike any other candidate, was not isolated from the voters but has a personal connection with them. Prof. Atta-Mills has lived in an extraordinary personal political environment, he loves the opportunity to go out there and talk to people and listen to them. Today, a couple months later, the answer is clear. But the surprising twist is not so much that Prof. Mills clings relentlessly to the notion of ‘letting Atta-Mills be Atta-Mills’,- after all, he certainly has confidence in himself-but that his campaign staff first see the virtue in the strategy – then make it work.

Coming up with the strategy, however, was the easy part. The challenge was putting it into practice, which of course, is where the campaign comes in. But the skill of the Communication Director (Koku Anyidoho) and his staff was not merely that they recognized their man’s talent, but that they did something truly unconventional in modern day politics: They resisted the urge to make their man into something that he is not, and they let him directly connect with the people/voters by allowing him to take questions and showing that he has nothing to hide

The meeting in Hartsdale N. Y and the handshaking in the Bronx African Markets and at the Ga Homowo festival (Sakura park at Columbia University), of course, worked. Prof.Atta-Mills was passionate and at ease, and was surrounded by a pack of reporters and groups critical to a president’s electoral success. The lessons of the New York trip and the retail politics appear to cross a new threshold and also reinforced what Prof. Atta-Mills had learned from the 2000 and 2004 elections: The more people know Atta-Mills, the more they like him. Now the campaign understands that politics, by and large, is not so much a matter of who you know, but how many know you.

Prof. Atta-Mills performance in New York-and the wide coverage it earned-would help trigger the rebound that would catapult him past all the other presidential candidates into a lead he would never relinquish. Many other factors are important, of course: echoing the NO TRIBE/REGION left behind message and hammering away at NPP’s inaction on the economy, peppering audiences with one plan after another for jobs, quality of life and better education. Also the approach of using pop culture media and other non-traditional methods of getting out the message has become institutionalized in the campaign.

The rebirth in New York, Worcester MA, and Atlanta has provided Prof. Mills with some momentum going back to Ghana where the votes really count, and this underscores the fact that Prof. Atta-Mills has been able to move, woo and seduce some diasporan brains. Prof.Atta-Mills we feel your campaign!!! Come again!!

S. Amoyaw, The Big Apple

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