And as I wrote about a month ago for CJR, Sasha Issenberg’s new book about breakthroughs in political technology, The Victory Lab, raises questions about whether reporters have a clue about how presidential campaigns are targeting persuadable voters. But while I stand by my recommendation that reporters should err on the side of humility, my recent experience canvassing with Obama and Romney volunteers in the Columbus, Ohio, area left me wondering whether campaigns have really transcended the clipboard era.
So, in the end, I am back with the most traditional weapons in a campaign reporter’s arsenal—voter interviews and long, mostly background, conversations with political insiders in states like Iowa and Ohio. Often the smartest and least spin-laden interviews a reporter can find are with veteran operatives and strategists who, for whatever reason, are on the sidelines in the 2012 campaign. They boast perspective, knowledge of their states, and an independence that campaign operatives lack.
All this is not a substitute for polls and data analysis, but a companion piece. I am under no illusions that I am doing anything more original than testing hypotheses with actual on-site reporting. But as it increasingly appears as if we will be facing another close election in a deeply divided nation, there is no shame in celebrating Political Horserace Time.