John Cullinane’s message: Democracy is in peril, and we have to save it

Ed Forry

In 2008, the Cullinanes met with then-VP candidate Joe Biden to help craft an Irish American message for the Obama/Biden ticket...and it worked!

By Ed Forry
The Boston business leader John Cullinane has long been a force in Democratic politics hereabouts. A longtime ally of Sen. Ted Kennedy, John and his wife Diddy hosted a reception here for the senator and Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams. And in 2008, he organized Boston Irish community support for Barack Obama. I was pleased to join with him in meeting with then-VP candidate Joe Biden to send a message to the Obama/Biden ticket that they should reach out to Irish-Americans. Then, just before the election, Cullinane led an Obama rally at the Irish Cultural Centre in Canton.
At the root of the businessman’s approach is his concept of “messaging” – that is, identify a theme and follow a plan that targets and reinforces that message. He advises gathering together the various members of a group to discuss important points for the message. And this year, with the mid-term elections just five months away, the message the Democrats want to deliver is, simply: “Save Our Democracy.”
“I don’t create the message,” says Cullinane. “I get agreement from the group as to what the message should be. Getting agreement is impossible without the process I have. The overall message and focus messages are coordinated so that any candidate can use them. For example, tests show that ‘A Better America’ message works much better than anything prospects have heard to date. America is already great; just have to make it better.
“I reduced what I am actually doing in the messaging space for Democratic candidates into a personal plan to elect more Democratic candidates and save our democracy,” he says. “I have communicated this to all the key people responsible for Democratic messaging in Washington as well as individual senators and congressmen. They would be well advised to take advantage of this because it’s available now and it works. The plan can be forwarded to any new candidate or any existing member of Congress up for re-election. In the process, the candidate’s messaging problem will be solved, fast, and at no cost.
“Democrats often lose winnable races because they, or their candidates, had no message. One hears this all the time in campaign post mortems. I, as everyone I know, am interested in saving our democracy. Helping Democrats win more elections is the way to do it. Thus, I have come up with a personal working plan that solves the Democratic sales messaging problem that can be used by others, as follow:
“1. Create coordinated overall and focused messages for the candidates. 2. Test them in the marketplace to make sure they work. 3. Communicate them to the candidates and Democratic leadership. 4. Provide easy access to the message-creating process by the candidate and staffs. 5. Provide no cost assistance. 6. Enlist major donors in the effort.”
Cullinane noted that the New York Times columnist Tom Friedman had struck a similar note in early June. “The bottom line is that he believes while other things are important it’s all about saving our democracy and the Democratic Party is the only party that can do it, because the Republican Party has taken a walk.
“Also, that everyone should vote Democratic to make it happen because it’s imperative that the Democrats regain control of the House and Senate in order to save our democracy. However, Democrats have to reach out and address the concerns of Independents and Republicans to make this happen, and everyone has to do his, or her, part.
“This is why I created the Democratic Message Guide-2018,” said Cullinane, “to help candidates win races they might otherwise lose with messages for Independents, Conservative Catholics etc. Listening is what Tom Friedman is very good at. Not only is he picking it up, but he believes it himself, as I, and so many people I know do. It’s all about saving our democracy.”