When Sen. Lindsey Graham announced that he is exploring a bid for president, he did so by announcing his exploratory committee, “Security through Strength.”
“Ronald Reagan’s policy of ‘Peace through Strength’ kept America safe during the Cold War,” the South Carolina Republican said. “But we will never enjoy peaceful co-existence with radical Islam because its followers are committed to destroying us and our way of life. However, America can have ‘Security through Strength,’ and I will continue to lead in that critical fight.”
Before presidential candidates launch their campaigns, they announce they are exploring a bid. That exploration, limited mostly to donors’ checkbooks, requires fundraising committees — in many cases this cycle, Graham excepted, leadership political action committees.
But a bouncing baby PAC needs more than money. It also needs a name.
Naming a PAC is something of a political art form. A PAC’s name can telegraph the central message of a campaign, but it must also balance patriotic with practical considerations.
“There is an advantage to a shorter name if the PAC is going to do television, because it means the disclaimer can be shorter,” the director of one potential presidential candidate’s PAC explained.
A name must also be available: No two active committees of the same kind can share a name.
There is room for creativity and humor: In his 2004 losing Senate race against John Thune, Tom Daschle dubbed his PAC “A Lot of People Supporting Tom Daschle.”
But at the presidential level, PAC names have recently skewed generically American, unimaginative and cautious, such as with Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s “Right to Rise PAC” and the technically unaffiliated super PAC of the same name.
Even seemingly safe names have their pitfalls, however. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie settled on “Leadership Matters for America,” a fairly generic, patriotic phrase. But American Bridge President Brad Woodhouse noted on Twitter that the acronym for Christie’s PAC’s website, LeadershipMattersForAmerica.Org, is LMFAO — or “laugh my f----ing ass off.”
Rather than risk it, many campaigns settle on a tried and tested name. Sen. Marco Rubio’s “Reclaim America PAC” was inspired directly by his Senate campaign slogan, which got the job done when he won in 2010.
Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina had often spoken in the business world about “unlocking the potential of the people around her,” said Fiorina’s spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores, so that became the PAC’s name: Unlocking Potential.
“When there were discussions about what to name the PAC, all of the staff sitting around thought it was an obvious choice because that's what she always been saying,” Flores said.
The most obvious PACs of all are the eponymous ones, like RickPAC, for former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, and HUCK PAC, for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
Sen. Rand Paul likewise opted for RAND PAC, which allowed for flexibility depending on what office Paul was running for.
“It wasn't set up as a ‘presidential’ entity or precursor,” said Doug Stafford, a senior aide to Paul. “It was set up years ago, and we wanted it to be identified with Senator Paul directly.”
But the PAC name is actually an acronym, for “Reinventing a New Direction” — a name about as coherent as the pro-Mitt Romney “Restore Our Future” super PAC in 2012. How do we “re-invent” something new, or “restore” something that by definition has not yet happened?
When former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley was mulling what he would call his PAC, he wanted a name that would carry a bit more significance. He came up with “O’ Say Can You See PAC” — a triple allusion to O’Malley’s Irish last name, "The Star-Spangled Banner," and the Battle of Baltimore that inspired the song.
“The Battle of Baltimore was a turning point in the War of 1812,” said O’Malley spokeswoman Lis Smith. “The people of Baltimore rallied and handed the first defeat to the greatest army in the world.”
O’Malley, a well-documented War of 1812 buff, marked the 200th anniversary of that battle last year at Fort McHenry, where he wore a period military uniform and mounted a white horse.
And yes, Smith says: The PAC name was O’Malley’s idea.
“The poll-tested blandness of so many PAC names underscores how bloodless politics has become,” Smith added. “Every now and then, people should have some fun.”