Reporters Touch Down in Small Towns

On Monday, Campaign Desk pointed to a Washington Post piece nominating the “hook and bullet” crowd (hunting and fishing enthusiasts, many of who live in battleground states) as the hot new voting bloc. We predicted that other news outlets, abashed that the Post had uncovered a heretofore ignored demographic, would “pursue this bait in coming days and weeks.” Sure enough, today, both the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times have picked up the scent.

Reporters from both the coasts’ Times have ventured into “small-town America” to explore how the Bush and Kerry campaigns are fighting tooth-and-nail for rural voters — the sort of folks who are often enthusiastic about hunting and fishing. New York Times’ Robin Toner reports today from Cloquet, Minnesota, where John Kerry will visit during a bus tour across the midwest this weekend as he tries “to connect with small-town America.” The LA Times’ Michael Finnegan files from the “remote dairy town” of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, an area that Bush visited during his last bus tour, “where shotguns are prized possessions.”

The Gray Lady’s Toner gave the subject a once-over-quickly, pointing out that Kerry’s latest biographical ads show an image of the candidate hunting. The LA Times’ Finnegan, by contrast, succeeds in interviewing an actual “hook and bullet” voter — Garnet Mathwig, owner of Garnet’s Barbershop, where “a deer with gnarled antlers peers at customers from the wall.” Turns out Mathwig isn’t pleased with President Bush’s performance on the economy or in Iraq. And it is on these two issues, both reporters note, that the Kerry camp hopes to gain a foothold in precisely those rural areas where Bush’s conservative stances on social issues, including gun restrictions, should otherwise give him a leg up. Indeed, Toner writes, “Bush “won some of his biggest … margins among rural and small-town voters” in 2000.

But “rural voters” — those both in the “hook and bullet” crowd and not — shouldn’t get too comfortable in the spotlight. The candidates’ buses move on, and so too the press caravan, always eager to “discover” the next all new cluster of voters around the bend.

How about the “cook and pullet” bloc — those millions upon millions of heretofore neglected voters who grill and eat chicken?

Liz Cox Barrett

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.