But the damage wasn’t done even then, as Ralston lampooned the candidate in his Wednesday column for the Las Vegas Sun. The Sun is known as the liberal paper in this city, but the piece pulled no punches, starting with the headline, “Oceguera makes case for Heck.” The column opened:
The inescapable conclusion after congressional candidate John Oceguera’s performance on television this week is either he believes in nothing or is scared of everything
Either way, if there are any Democrats who can defend his spectacularly evasive and all-too-revealing appearances on “Face to Face” and “The Agenda,” they should be ashamed of themselves. Oceguera’s refusal to take positions on seminal Democratic initiatives such as health care reform and the stimulus are emblematic of a party whose candidates hope to win by hiding their core beliefs or have decided to discard them — at least temporarily.
Ralston, who always relishes a good sparring match, later recounted the segment of the interview that focused on the stimulus, one of the other centerpieces of the Obama administration’s policy record:
Oceguera again refused to take a position, telling me, “You can go back and rehash the 2010 elections if you want,” something I have neither the desire nor the temperament to do and which did not have anything to do with my question.
Would you have voted for it? I gamely asked the speaker.
“I’m going to look forward,” he replied.
At that point, I was looking forward, too. To a commercial break. Or a stiff drink. Or a 16-ton weight falling on my head.
Clearly, journalists out here were deriving some satisfaction from seeing the hapless Oceguera take his lumps. Even Ralston’s Sun colleague, J. Patrick Coolican, joined the fray with a Thursday column that predicted that following the TV interviews, “Oceguera’s campaign for Congress is all but finished.”
But there’s a more important issue in this episode than the media getting the upper hand, for a change, on a campaign. (And, truth be told, the harm to Oceguera is largely self-inflicted.)
In a previous post, I flagged some smart commentary about how the money-fueled ad war is likely to loom largest in congressional races, precisely because voters have less information from other sources about the candidates in those races.
The remedy is for journalists to do all they can to supply voters with useful information about those candidates, and where they stand on the issues. That’s just what political journalists in the Silver State were attempting to do in these interviews—and to their credit, they were doing so well in advance of Election Day. (It’s important to note that this work is facilitated by what is, for local TV stations in this era, a laudable commitment to public affairs broadcasting: “Face to Face” and “The Agenda” each digest political issues on-air five days a week.)
Oceguera turned out to be artlessly coy about where he stands—which, at least, gave voters one type of information about him. As the cycle continues, other, more prepared candidates will, hopefully, be more forthcoming with substantive answers. That will make for less awkwardly entertaining television. But it should also make for a better-informed electorate.