At one time, the hope was that people in early states would have a unique opportunity to avoid the media filter and get to know the candidates and what they stand for on a more intimate level. In this cycle, however, analysis of how the candidates are faring threatens to crowd out the actual content of the campaign, even in early states like New Hampshire. The danger, in other words, is that the presidential campaign will be Politico-ized all the way down.
Is there a better approach? Rather than adopting the prevailing framework from national journalists, we should hope that state reporters write in a framework that is attentive to strategic factors but still places their primary emphasis on the positions and proposals of the candidates. Consider, for instance, how media outlets covered former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s proposal to add private accounts to Social Security, which he unveiled in New Hampshire on Monday. Politico’s Jonathan Martin chronicled the former House Speaker’s lack of message discipline, while the Huffington Post’s Jon Ward unearthed a supposed dig at Romney deep within the Gingrich campaign’s 48-page proposal. While these accounts may be interesting to political junkies, both neglect to provide readers with the basic policy facts about Gingrich’s proposal.
By contrast, the Boston Globe’s Shira Schoenberg (whose newspaper is widely read in southern New Hampshire) wrote a story that deftly blended horse race context (Gingrich’s rise in the polls) with policy substance (the lack of available details on how the Gingrich plan would be funded and implemented). Let’s hope reporters in New Hampshire and other early states follow her example going forward.