Taking the people to the polls

After serving on the podium staff of the recent Democratic Convention in Los Angeles, Ms. Kathryne ``Kitty'' Kurth just had time to change clothes and hop on to a plane to India. Though her assignment here is political, it is different from her ``behind- the-scenes work that helps candidates get elected'' in the U.S. In India, she has been speaking to different sections of people and students about the American elections.

``American voters, much like Indian voters, are concerned about domestic issues that affect them everyday,'' says the political consultant. ``The good news about Indians is that Al Gore and George Bush realise how important India is as a democracy and also as a growing economy,'' she tells G. Pramod Kumar.

PRINTED WITH soya ink on recycled paper, Ms. Kurth's business card is not just a symbol of political correctness. Instead, it comes from a philosophy that drives her political consulting and public relations firm ``Kurth Lampe.''

``We want to make the world better one step at a time.'' And one of the steps in this process is electing candidates who share her philosophy.That takes her close to the Democratic Party. She had worked for the Bill Clinton-Al Gore campaign and has been a strong votary of the Democrats' ideology right from childhood.

``My mother was a Democrat precinct captain in a Republican area where we grew up. So, from the time we could walk, we were taught to put brochures on the back of our wagon and go door to door.''

Now, Ms. Kurth, who avoids large corporations, does it at an advanced level. She helps in organising campaigns and help people develop their messages. She had helped Al Gore in the primaries and has been working on a number of elections at the local level.

According to Ms. Kurth, who studied history at the University of Virginia, the real election issues are the problems of the common people such as education, crime, school safety and care for senior citizens. ``A large share of our population are the baby boomers who are looking for their own retirement and also to help their elders.'' These are also the issues Al Gore is talking about. I am a democrat, hence I know what Al Gore will talk about.''

On the other hand, the Republicans will talk about getting a tax cut and spending the surplus that does not exist. They will talk about defence and foreign policy. They talked about diversity. At their convention, they had different looking people on the podium, but 87 per cent of the delegates to the convention were whites and most of them, women.

How difficult is it to mobilise public interest in elections? Since World War II, voter participation is going steadily down and TV has become the new precinct captain in the national campaign. ``There are too many voters to reach, hence we use TV.'' Otherwise, it will take at least 10 years to reach the millions.

As a democrat at heart, Al Gore is Ms. Kurth's favourite. ``He is a very smart guy who knows a lot.'' But what about his image? ``Journalists have to find some way to poke fun at the candidates and with Gore it is very difficult. The joke there is that he is rigid and is like a robot. But, for anybody who has met him, he is a proper guy. He was raised well and his parents taught him manners. He has a great sense of humour, but it is dry and hence, sometimes people do not understand it.''According to Ms. Kurth, ethnic and religious diversity of America is accepted more now. Very soon, Indo-Americans will be seen running for office than supporting candidates. She feels that Asians will have better prospects if they formed a coalition consisting of Indians, Pakistanis, Chinese and Japanese.After the elections? ``Take a couple of weeks off and sleep.'' Then again it is back to work with NGOs, Women's organisations and on projects that share her philosophy, says Ms. Kurth, who felt quite at home in Chennai.

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