A couple weeks ago, Dick Morris, an outspoken political commentator, boldly announced that the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary are now basically irrelevant presidential contests.
Morris stated, “Iowa and New Hampshire will not impose their will on America. America will impose its will on Iowa and New Hampshire. The quarter finals will not be waged in the cornfields of Iowa or the former mill towns of New Hampshire. They will be held in the living rooms of America among the Fox News audience!”
It’s not surprising to hear this given that Morris is also a FOX News contributor. His high praise of FOX is a bit self-serving. If FOX is going to determine the nominee, then its paid commentators, like Morris, are going to be kingmakers or at least play a critical roll in determining the nominee.
Morris goes on to say, “The share of the GOP electorate that watches Fox News has become so dominant that the early stages of the Republican nominating process will be held on its air waves. It is there – not in the early morning handshaking at factory gates in Iowa and New Hampshire – that we will meet the candidates and come to choose our favorites.”
If you follow Morris’ logic, you would also believe that ESPN determines who wins the BCS National Championship because so many sports fans watch the network. The scenario that he is describing is more like how ESPN influences the voting for Heisman Trophy. Cam Newton benefited from all of the hype he received and thus won the trophy this year. However, Stanford’s Andrew Luck and Washington’s Jake Locker will be selected in the NFL draft before Newton.
Morris seems to forget that, despite all of the hype and attention the candidates will receive from the media, there still is a game to be played. That game is played in Iowa before it heads to New Hampshire. FOX seems to understand this. Just yesterday, the network announced that it is partnering with the Republican Party of Iowa to produce two Republican presidential debates in Iowa.
The states in which the presidential nomination process begins definately impact the issue set that is discussed and the type of campaigns that the candidates run. This is especially true in a state like Iowa, which holds caucuses instead of a primary.
Iowa caucus goers were not swayed by the political coverage on FOX News in 2008. That year Rudy Giuliani seemed to be the preferred candidate of the network. Their favorable coverage didn’t help Giuliani win over voters in Iowa, New Hampshire, or even Florida.
Mike Huckabee won the support of most caucus goers that year. The reason he was so successful is because he articulated a message that Iowans responded to and most people just liked the guy.
Once again, Iowans will expect to meet the candidates who are asking for their vote. They also want to be able to share with the candidates their thoughts and fears, and of course, have the opportunity to ask some tough questions face to face.
It’s easy to understand how someone who resides in New York City can easily write off states like Iowa and New Hampshire. These small states might not be the most interesting places in America, but, on the whole, they have done an outstanding job of vetting presidential candidates for the past 30 or so years.
With the advent of new technologies and a news cycle that barely lasts an hour let alone a day, more and more people will depend on the political websites and 24 hour news networks for their news. That makes it even more imperative for our presidential candidates to have to campaign in small states like Iowa and New Hampshire where people focus on substance, not soundbites. People like Morris shouldn’t belittle the role these states play in picking our nominee – they should embrace it.
Photo by Dave Davidson
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