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Hold Off on Iowa Hype


With the Iowa caucuses but weeks away, the mainstream media is facing a troubling decision: Do they want the Presidential contest to be a sprint or a marathon?

In past election cycles, the media has focused its attention on the early-voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire, as these two have winnowed out the field and let reporters focus on a handful – not a herd – of contenders. In 2004, Iowa thankfully ended the brief administrations of Presidents-elect Howard Dean and Dick Gephart. Any New Hampshirite will remind you that since they held the first-in-the-nation primary, only two presidents have been elected without winning in their state.

Those two presidents, however, are the last two we’ve had – George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Even a casual observer might suggest that whatever effect the state may have had on the general election in November may no longer be as powerful as in the past.

Still, a vote is a vote. And for the sake of better ratings, the traditional media’s election year strategy has been to hype the importance of the Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire primaries, facts-be-damned, to get people to tune in to find out who will be the next president. That’s worked in the past when the primary schedule was a bit less front-loaded. This year, if political reporters want to keep their life interesting between February 5 and the late-summer conventions, its in their interest to promote the idea of a marathon-like political campaign.

Indeed the New York Times’ Adam Nagourney seems to want the GOP to battle things out in a brokered convention, writing, “In fact, it is entirely plausible that Mike Huckabee of Arkansas will win the caucuses [in Iowa]; that John McCain of Arizona will win New Hampshire; that Mitt Romney of Massachusetts will win Michigan, Fred Thompson of Tennessee will win South Carolina and Rudolph W. Giuliani of New York will win Florida. In those circumstances, with no obvious front-runner, and with many of the candidates having adequate resources and varying bases of support, they could just divide the prize on Feb. 5 and move on to the next primary.”

While that is entirely possible it is only likely if the candidates themselves believe it. There are plenty of more realistic scenarios.

As much as Mitt Romney craves the trappings of the White House, if he is knocked off by an upstart like Mike Huckabee in both Iowa and New Hampshire, it will be difficult for him to explain to his wife why he should continue to blow the family fortune on TV ad buys and political consultants.

And while a winning Huckabee will get plenty of earned media out of wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, his impoverished campaign will not have the funds to fight in larger media markets. Without an influx of cash, Huckabee will not survive.

John McCain seems to be doing a pretty good impression of John Kerry this year. The once straight-talking Senator is lurking in the shadows of the GOP field just waiting for everyone or anyone else to stumble, making him the Republican candidate of choice. Or is that anti-choice? McCain may have changed his position again this week.

Like Bill Clinton in 1992, Rudy Giuliani will have to rely on the larger, later-voting states to secure the nomination. He is making this plan known to the public now to lower expectations in Iowa and New Hampshire at the same time pushing to get absentee ballots cast in California, Florida and New York, where his message of moderation is more agreeable for voters.

The rest of the Republican field – Fred Thompson, Ron Paul, Duncan Hunter – must rely on an apocalypse among the front-running candidates to have a hope to pick up more than a handful of delegates – not unlike Ohio State and LSU did this year in college football. If they do, and we actually do end up with a brokered convention, one of these minor candidates could become a king maker. But he won’t become king – or president.

In politics as in life, neither our greatest fears nor our wildest expectations are likely to come to pass. In the case of the GOP 2008 presidential nominations process, that means that the race won’t be decided in early January or in early September, but somewhere in between as the field shakes out after Super-Duper Tuesday on February 5.

And if you’re John McCain or Rudy, Giuliani that’s good news.

Share  Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 9:10 AM | Permalink

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