Tapping out Joe’s swan song

The “Joe-mentum” is building — not exactly the voter shift Sen. Joe Lieberman had in mind, but a definite trend that the pulse-takers here at The Campaign Desk love to monitor.

Somebody’s gotta be the next to go, and increasingly the media is looking to Joe. Despite Lieberman’s vow to stay in the race, and his claim that the South and Southwest may be more hospitable to his message than New Hampshire, we’re hearing some of those early tap, tap, tapping sounds that eventually turn into a drumbeat. Yesterday’s Washington Post used the word “flagging” to describe Lieberman’s campaign. Today’s New York Times describes the senator’s colleagues as wondering how long he’ll continue. Accurate coverage? Probably. Loaded message? Yeah. We don’t see any similar characterizations of the Kucinich or Sharpton efforts.

So what happens when the bigfoots of the media begin singing “Loser!” in concert? Does the chorus eventually become so strong that an otherwise viable candidate is prematurely forced to fold? Campaign Desk asked former presidential candidate Gary Hart about the impact of media perceptions.

Hart, who battled through two presidential primary seasons (1984 and 1988), on occasion was portrayed as an unelectable spoiler. (Sorry folks, no web links for those bygone days.) “Forced [out] is too strong a word,” says Hart. Squeezed is more like it. Media slants, Hart says, have their impact on a constituency that is far more powerful than mere voters — namely, donors. “There’s a real linkage between media coverage and raising money. If you don’t have money, you don’t go forward.” And if you don’t go forward, he says, the loser image rapidly becomes self-fulfilling.

We don’t know how much Lieberman has in the bank, but his budget for ad buys in the crucial states of Arizona, South Carolina and Oklahoma amounts to just $31,000, according to The Washington Post.


And then there’s that sly headline writer at the Times who invented a new word to describe Lieberman’s campaign: “Whoa-mentum.”


The lyrics to this song? They may turn out to be, “Oh Joey boy, we barely knew ye … ”

—Susan Q. Stranahan

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Susan Q. Stranahan wrote for CJR.