The Magazine Reader

Not Just for Wonks Anymore: Political Mag Gets Makeover

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By Peter Carlson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Politics magazine publishes many fine articles, but the most astonishing, amazing and entertaining thing about the magazine is the ads.

Flip through the March issue and you quickly come to an ad illustrated by a photo of a wood-paneled sitting room where three animal heads are mounted on the wall like hunting trophies. But they're not the heads of deer or moose. They're the heads of donkeys.

"We bag the big ones," the headline reads. "And we're ready to add your Democrat to our collection."

It's an ad for the Traz Group, a company that does direct mail for Republican candidates.

Turn the page and you see an ad illustrated with a picture of a smug old coot steering a yacht while a young woman, who looks like she might be his latest trophy wife, smiles demurely at him.

"There are other ways to reach rich Republicans," the ad says. "But you'll need a yacht club membership." It's an advertisement for Newsmax Media, a Web site that claims to have a pipeline to folks who own yachts and stocks and luxury cars and might be persuaded to pony up some cash for Republican candidates.

There are also ads for Democrat-oriented companies, but for some reason they don't have quite the same pizazz.

Politics is the new name of the magazine formerly known as Campaigns & Elections. Founded in 1980, it was a trade publication for what could be called the "campaign-industrial complex" -- political consultants, campaign managers and pollsters, as well as the folks who make bumper stickers or run the phone banks that bombard voters with pre-recorded "robo-calls" touting Candidate X or slandering Candidate Y.

Last fall, the Arlington-based magazine hired a new editor, Bill Beaman, 51, a former Washington bureau chief for Reader's Digest. Beaman's goal is to keep his base readership of campaign professionals while expanding the 12,000 circulation by attracting readers who love politics but aren't in the business.

"A friend described Campaigns & Elections as an eat-your-peas publication -- good for you but not a whole lot of fun," Beaman says. "My hope is to make it engaging and lively and bring more political junkies into our readership."

To that end, Beaman changed the magazine's name to Politics, perked up the design and began running articles that you don't have to be a campaign wonk to appreciate. The March issue, for instance, has an interesting piece about how both parties can compete for the votes of young "cultural libertarians." It also has a cogent explanation of the byzantine rules for Democratic delegates and superdelegates, and a profile of Charlie Summers, a naval reservist from Maine who is running for Congress while serving in Iraq.

Of course the magazine still serves its base with articles on the nuts and bolts of political campaigns -- fundraising and polling and how to deal with the young (and mercifully unidentified) campaign staffer who posted this little daydream on his MySpace page: "If I could go anywhere in the world, it'd be on a desert island with marijuana seeds to plant, my music and my dog. I like peace, I like getting away from it all: getting high and chillin'."

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