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January 14, 2008
Primed for Next Media Blunder?
There’s been a great deal of hand-wringing following the
disastrous media coverage of the New Hampshire primary, with another
question looming: Is the media headed toward another disaster this
Much of that
hand-wringing is warranted – the media too quickly declared Barack Obama
the presumptive leader in New Hampshire, ignoring a few basic facts.
The first is that the
campaign in Iowa and the campaign in New Hampshire are two different
contests, not two innings of the same baseball game. Presidential
hopefuls campaigned in both states simultaneously before election day.
The idea that Iowa’s results start a cumulative effect unfortunately
runs afoul of this reality. Candidates courted New Hampshire voters and
built organization there all along. In the end, it was Hillary’s ability
to get out the vote among women that earned her the nod.
The second is that until
right after Iowa, Hillary Clinton led every New Hampshire poll. In the
end, what should have been the angle, “Hillary narrowly avoids losing
contest she’d led all along,” was “Hillary’s tears help her stage
comeback.” John McCain, who won New Hampshire in 2000, also painted
himself as a comeback candidate, even though he was expected to win
again this year.
This lack of proper focus
could prompt another blunder as the contest shifts to Michigan.
Although the Democratic
contest is a referendum vote by Michigan Democrats on Clinton, the
stakes on the Republican side are a bit higher. Although sanctions by
the national party chopped the size of the delegation in half, Tuesday’s
vote is chiefly about generating headlines.
The media has cast the
election as a make-or-break moment between McCain and Mitt Romney, whose
family name is still well known in the state. The focus on this
storyline doesn’t miss the mark by very much, but it still misses it.
In Michigan, the contest
is all about the economy. Losses in manufacturing jobs have created the
nation’s highest unemployment rate, and no one expects things to get any
better soon. Unfortunately, both of the front runners in this contest
have offered nothing more than vague promises and generalities.
apparently thinks it’s telling Michigan voters something new by
informing them that some of their jobs aren’t coming back. And, despite
a strong desire in the state’s political class to learn from past
mistakes and diversify the economy, he says he wants the state to again
be the world’s leader in automobiles.
Romney, who grew up in
Michigan, has ignored reality and insists that high-wage manufacturing
jobs are coming back.
This could be why the
latest polls show that, while the two candidates are engaged in a close
race, neither of them has much hard support. That leaves open the
possibility for a dark horse to come in under the wire – Mike Huckabee.
Huckabee’s ads focus on
expanding health care, education and building roads – things that the
people of Michigan talk about, and that most of the state’s citizens
acknowledge are critical to rebuilding the state’s economy. His message
about enforcing trade could come right out of union talking points. He’s
working with the state’s evangelicals and has brought Jim Gilchrist,
founder of the Minuteman Project, to Michigan to woo independent
conservatives with strong Libertarian tendencies. As important as
Detroit is to the state’s Democratic Party, the outstate regions that
are home to these two blocs of voters are critical to the GOP.
That makes Michigan prime
for an upset, so much so that Huckabee – said to be sensing an opening –
has concentrated much of his pre-South Carolina effort here.
It could easily pay off,
and not just in delegates. If Huckabee can capitalize with a strong
Tuesday finish, expect headlines declaring him just the latest comeback
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