In Iowa, Covering a New Breed of Campaign : CJR
The rise of social media and the increasing prominence of cable news is making coverage of the 2012 presidential primary different than any cycle before it—and the changes present journalists with a new set of challenges while also offering some fresh opportunities, veteran reporters in the Hawkeye State say.
As The Washington Post and The New York Times have noted, many of the Republican candidates this year seem to be waging a “national campaign,” relying more on media outlets with broad reach and less on on-the-ground campaigning in early primary states like Iowa.
A tally maintained by The Des Moines Register, the state’s largest paper, bears this out. Mitt Romney, one of the GOP frontrunners, has spent just eight days in the state, while Jon Huntsman has bypassed Iowa almost entirely. And while it’s not unusual for some Republican candidates to de-emphasize Iowa, the limited presence here isn’t restricted to those two. According to the Register, Herman Cain has made only a handful of appearances in the state since August, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry has been to the state just 17 days in total.
The shift has had implications for Iowa’s journalists. In prior cycles, said Register political columnist Kathie Obradovich, local journalists effectively had the campaigns to themselves for a period, and candidates often appeared at town hall-style gatherings, where they fielded tough questions from voters. This year, national attention and wider campaigning has kicked in at an earlier point in the cycle—in part because many of the campaigns officially “launched” unusually late—and candidate appearances are more likely to consist of simple stump speeches.
“It’s hard to find candidates interacting with voters in a real natural way, a kind of low-impact campaign,” said Obradovic, who has been covering presidential campaigns Iowa since 1996. “You just don’t have that kind of thing anymore.”
Jason Clayworth, a political reporter at the Register, said the immediacy of Twitter, and its near-ubiquity among news and politics junkies, has made it possible for candidates to breeze through Iowa rather than engage in the type of grassroots campaigning the state is known for.
“I think that’s why some of these campaigns can get away from campaigning quite as aggressively here and focusing nationally, because it’s instantaneous,” Clayworth said.