June 30, 2003

Checking up on Mom…

It was right there in my Reporting 101 textbook at the University of Delaware: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” The point being that a lot of problems with journalism can be cured by checking and double-checking everything. Tim Porter reminds us how important this basic practice of journalism is…or should be.

June 30, 2003

: Headline rhetoric…

Howard Dean says he’s raised $6 million in the second quarter.

That is a simple statement of the news this morning. Let’s take a look at what else is involved to see how this “news” works as rhetoric.

The statement comes ahead of the actual filing of second quarter reports, so the $6 million figure is not official (that’s not to suggest it isn’t accurate). While most of the candidates released estimates last week, commonly thought to be low-ball figures to play the expectations game (a rhetorical maneuver), this announcement is played as hard data and trumps earlier expectations. As of this morning, and by comparison, the other candidates appear to be eating his dust.

By announcing this on Sunday for the Monday news cycle, Dean effectively grabs the headlines on a typically slow news day, and he grabs them with data that suggest he’s surging on the contributions of individuals, i.e. not the power elite. If the establishment candidates don’t win the expectations game this quarter, Dean’s master narrative as “the one to watch” will gain legitimacy.

Question: How, and when, will this affect the polls?

UPDATE (8:17 a.m.): The Christian Science Monitor says “the Net is seen mainly as a money-raiser. While many donations are small, the Net’s real power lies in being a forum for ideas, debate, and decision.”

UPDATE (8:38 a.m.): Joshua Marshall says the “news is huge, demonstrating both the improbable strength of Dean and the demonstrable feebleness of the establishment contenders.”

UPDATE (1:43 p.m.): Dean’s blog reports almost $6.5 million as of noon today.

UPDATE (2:00 p.m.): The Note says that anyone who doesn’t consider Dean a top-tier candidate is “either smoking something or lying.” Either that or they have read my essay on nomination campaigns in which I explain Prof. William Mayer’s predictive model and its implications for the press-politics of the campaign. It looks like Dean is heading for the top tier, but he won’t arrive until his national poll numbers do.

June 29, 2003

: Ka-boom!…

Entertainers are citizens, too. And they have every right to their political opinions. But what does it say about our public discourse that both major parties cannot seem to avoid their influence, cannot seem to avoid employing them as rhetorical land mines? What does the following, from comedian Dennis Miller, add to the quality of our civic discourse or our understanding of issues that affect the lives of average Americans?:

Miller used his routine [at a Republican fundraiser] to liken the nine Democratic presidential candidates to the 1962 New York Mets, possibly the worst major-league baseball team in history, and called them an “empty-headed scrum” with debates that look “like a Pez dispenser s

June 28, 2003

: Debate schedule set…

The Democratic presidential candidates will will hold six televised debates from September until the end of the year. Voters find debates politically useful, according to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2000 (Source: National Journal, 22 July 2000).

June 27, 2003

: This summer’s SMASH HIT!…

No candidate won a majority of the MoveOn.org online primary (full results here). Howard Dean won with 43.87% of the vote (139,360 votes) followed by Dennis Kucinich with 23.93% (76,000 votes) and John Kerry with 15.73% (49,973 votes).

In my recent essay on the press-politics of the presidential nomination process, I asserted this theory: The nominees for President of the United States are chosen largely by the press through the construction of master narratives and voters’ reactions to these narratives.

The situation developing now with Howard Dean and Joe Lieberman offers a test of the validity of this theory.

Let’s look at an example from Time magazine (an article about Howard Dean):

We are now little more than six months away from the primaries. The real campaign will probably begin on Labor Day, but the Democratic field seems to have organized itself into three tiers. The bottom tier is the vanity candidacies: Al Sharpton, Dennis Kucinich, Carol Moseley Braun. The middle tier is serious candidates who have yet to catch fire: Joe Lieberman (despite high name recognition in the polls), John Edwards (despite financial support from his fellow trial lawyers and some creative speeches about specific issues) and Bob Graham. At the top are John Kerry, the party establishment’s favorite; Dick Gephardt, the Midwest labor candidate. And Howard Dean.

Prof. William Mayer’s predictive model for nomination campaigns says that the leader of the last national Gallup poll before the Iowa caucuses wins the nomination. This has held true for every contested primary since 1980. In 7 of 10 contested nomination races since 1980, the leader of the last poll had been leading for up to one year. Continued…click here for more.

UPDATE (11:48 a.m.): Dean declares online victory a “landslide.” Interesting rhetorical tactic. While his over-the-top assessment might seem comical, I think those who participated in this event may agree that it “was participatory democracy at its finest.”
(more…)

June 27, 2003

: Dean speech analysis…

I have posted my analysis of Howard Dean’s campaign announcement speech on Presidential Campaign Rhetoric 2004.

June 26, 2003

: Long, hot summer, continued…

Joe Lieberman holds a 5-point lead over Dick Gephardt and a 7-point lead over John Kerry in a new Gallup poll conducted last week. According to the analysis, this lead is “large enough to be statistically significant.”

This is the poll Prof. William Mayer used to develop his model for predicting nomination campaigns. The model shows that the winner of the nomination will be the candidate leading in the last national poll before the Iowa caucuses. This has been the result of every contested nomination since 1980. In 7 of 10 contested nomination races since 1980, the leader of the last poll had been leading for up to one year.

If Mayer’s predictive model continues to work, Joe Lieberman is the man who will lead Democrats against President Bush in the 2004 campaign.

Unless one of the other candidates figures out something between now and January 2004.

Yesterday, I suggested that the other candidates, especially the less well-known (polling single digits), should begin a national campaign this summer focusing more on several large, media-rich states and less on Iowa and New Hampshire because the polls there, as well as victories there, are less important than national stature.

I think there are two goals here: 1) For the candidates: Be the “winner” of the last poll (assuming the model continues to work), and 2) For the party: Create a clear frontrunner. I think the wad of candidates polling near the teens will challenge Mayer’s model. But the accuracy of his model is hardly the point. What chance does the nominee have against Bush if he limped along throughout the primaries polling in the teens or 20s?

The Democrats’ first step to victory is to produce a clear choice by 1 January 2004, if not a lot sooner. (via MyDD)

June 26, 2003

: Kill ’em with laughter…

Okay, someone on Howard Dean’s communications staff is thinking. Either that or Dean is beginning to understand how to make an effective soundbite–the kind that steals headlines or puts quotes at the tops of articles. At a fundraiser for Democrats yesterday, in which seven of the nine presidential candidates attended, Dean quipped:

“I am delighted to have all the candidates in one room so I can issue a blanket apology should one be needed later in the campaign.”

First, Americans appreciate good-natured, self-deprecating humor. So score one on the cultural side. But, more interestingly, he scores one on the political side because this is a confirmation that he’ll continue to speak his mind plainly. That’s good–as long as competent communications managers are helping him craft that plain talk.

Irony? Surely. But this is the political reality of electronically-mediated political campaigns: crafted messages are controlled messages and sustained messages. A large part of Dean’s appeal is his ability to cram issues down the collective throat of the press with his plain speaking (much like John McCain). This creates the contention (dichotomies) the press loves (re: the narrative bias and fairness bias of journalism).

Further, despite his single-digit poll numbers, Dean is considered the Democrat “everyone” is talking about (if that were true he’d be polling double digits). This quote demonstrates one reason why the press is paying so much attention to Dean. And this attention might eventually move his poll numbers. (via PoliticalWire)

June 25, 2003

: Time to travel America…

Walter Shapiro sees a

potentially thrilling narrative likely to unfold during the next seven months leading up to the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary. For it is hard to recall another presidential contest in which this many candidates were so tightly bunched at the half-mile mark with no clear favorite.

I suppose it depends upon what Shapiro means by “thrilling.” Good entertainment? Good copy?

While it is far too early to tell what shifts we may see in this pre-primary period, the national polls have held steady for months. Three candidates continue to battle for a slim lead, each polling in or near the teens. The rest languish in single digits, including the man “everyone” is talking about–Howard Dean. I don’t think this situation is good for Democrats.

And the thrill to be felt is, or should be, decidedly uncomfortable. Prof. William Mayer’s remarkably accurate predictive model of nomination campaigns says that the “winner” of the last national Gallup poll before the primaries wins the nomination. Will this hold true in a tight race? The Democrats don’t want to find out because such a situation could eventually give the administration the landslide victory it seeks. A clear frontrunner must emerge.

The current national polls, I think, represent a combination of early name recognition, expectations, and perceived viability. I would advise a candidate to spend a lot less time in Iowa and New Hampshire this summer and a lot more time in California, New York, Illinois, and Florida.

UPDATE (10:05 a.m.): Sen. John Edwards plans a series of summer town-hall meeting in New Hampshire. Considering what’s really at stake, this strategy is a mistake.

June 24, 2003

: My (not so) formal application, part 2…

I hereby apply for the job of Director of Political Rhetoric for the Dick Gephardt campaign. Snap me up now before you make any more stupid mistakes. Sheesh!

Re: “When I’m president, we’ll do executive orders to overcome any wrong thing the Supreme Court does tomorrow or any other day.”

This blunder is related to George H. W. Bush’s “read my lips” promise from the 1988 Republican convention. The statement is calculated to create an emotional response with a certain constituency. But such statements become bombast when not matched to political reality. In this case, there’s this little thing called the Constitution.

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