So The Repository has hardly neglected the Sutton-Renacci campaign, and the race does have to share space with other political stories on the paper’s agenda. Still, it was surprising, and a little disappointing, to see the paper skip the debate.
The strongest debate coverage came from the area’s biggest paper, The Plain Dealer.
Reporter Henry J. Gomez dryly noted in his lede that Renacci’s closing statement—“This race is about two polar opposites”—was at least one comment that reflected truth.
The rest of Gomez’s account captured the candidates’ broad-strokes portrayal of themselves, with enough details to flesh out the pictures. On the newspaper’s web site, the story carried video links to each candidate’s opening statements, a nice touch. Gomez also did well by attempting to bore into a claim made by each candidate: Sutton’s assertion that Renacci supports tax loopholes for companies that outsource jobs, and Renacci’s contention that the 2009 Cash for Clunkers program failed to save jobs or boost sales. Unfortunately, his on-the-spot digging did more to raise questions than offer conclusions; The Plain Dealer should keep at it and follow up.
The Plain Dealer’s earlier coverage includes plenty on polling and the back-and-forth bickering between the candidates, but also a long August article by Eaton about Sutton and Renacci introducing themselves to voters in their new district. That story focused on the horse race, but it contained some solid factchecking and offered a clear sense of where the candidates stand (basically, in the mainstreams of their parties). The PD took a softer, more feature-style look at the voter symposium, but did link to a PDF summarizing the candidates’ views and grading their performance in that process. And the newspaper’s fact-checking operation, Politifact Ohio, has been building up files about Renacci and Sutton. On the whole it’s solid coverage, and a good foundation for the remainder of the campaign.
The House district’s other paper, the Akron Beacon Journal, doesn’t have the resources of The Plain Dealer, but even so it has made some choices that leave its coverage weaker than it could have been. Reporter Stephanie Warsmith dedicated the first five paragraphs of her debate story to an argument between the candidates on redistricting, a source of partisan bickering that is unlikely to affect many votes in this campaign.
Further down, the article notes the role of outside money and identifies eight “weighty topics,” giving readers a quick but helpful look at the differences between the candidates. But the bottom of the piece recounts “poignant stories” told by Sutton and Renacci, quotes from supporters, and the candidates’ reviews on how well they did, all information of relatively little value. (The story did provide a useful link allowing readers to view the debate.)
The ABJ’s earlier coverage stands out for being especially focused on the voter symposium, a months-long process organized by the Minnesota-based group Jefferson Action. It’s an interesting initiative, with ABJ’s accounts along the way often offering some detail on the candidates’ views. And in his account of the culminating event, editorial writer Steve Hoffman smartly noted that “many of the candidates’ assertions went unchallenged,” while offering one or two challenges of his own.
But the ABJ’s emphasis on the process behind the citizen’s forum—along with a variety of shorter stories on the campaigns’ bickering, ads, and poll results—have left it doing little, if any, of its own digging into the role of money, the facts beneath the candidate’s rhetoric, or other underexplored stories. Readers would be better-served by more enterprising coverage in the weeks to come.
This is a volatile race, one that is not likely to grow any quieter in the next few weeks. Given the substantial amount of money being thrown in from both sides, voters will continue to be inundated by attack ads, some of them misleading or worse. It’s essential that local reporters bear down, wade through the mud, and rise above the clamor of interest group ads to inform their audiences about what these candidates stand for and what’s at stake on Election Day.