Shoving the Horses Into the Gate

ABC’s “The Note,” a daily summary of what’s going on in the political media, has one of the more intriguing tidbits of the day on the way the campaigns are being covered:

For those readers who don’t work in politics or political journalism directly, allow us to let you in on the biggest dirty little secret in our world right now: There is extraordinary pressure to begin covering the Bush v. Kerry general election matchup immediately.

This pressure comes from many quarters and on many fronts.

There’s nothing more specific in “The Note,” but so far, the media, to its credit, has generally resisted those pressures. While Kerry’s wins in Iowa, New Hampshire, Missouri, Arizona and other states clearly make him the front-runner, the race is far from over, as the The Wall Street Journal pointed out yesterday in an article headlined “Wins Lift Kerry, But Nomination Remains in Play.” (subscription required)

Leaning a bit in the “Kerry vs. Bush” direction, The New York Times’s Robin Toner has an interesting story on how Republicans might attack John Kerry — painting him as a Massachusetts liberal, with shades of Michael Dukakis — and how Kerry might respond. An unnamed Kerry advisor tells Toner, “This is not the Dukakis campaign. We’re not going to take it. And if they’re going to come at us with stuff, whatever that stuff may be, if it goes to a place where the ‘88 campaign did, then everything is on the table. Everything.”

Toner carefully walks the line between getting the story — Republicans are beginning to go after Kerry — and avoiding characterizing Kerry’s nomination as a done deal. Let’s hope the rest of the media can take the cue and resist the temptation to declare it a two-man race before most of the country has even had a chance to vote.

Bryan Keefer

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Bryan Keefer was CJR Daily’s deputy managing editor.