Apprehension over the tone and tenor of the Republican presidential primary has led Beltway group thinkers to a drastic conclusion: the Republican Party is doomed to defeat in the 2012 presidential election. And yet, a CBS/New York Times poll released this week shows both Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum closing in on President Barack Obama, who according to the same poll, is facing his lowest approval rating recorded to date by CBS at 41 percent. Even better for Republicans, an ABC/Washington Post poll also out this week has Romney ahead of Obama 49-47.
So what gives? Why is the echo chamber not in sync with what’s happening on-the-ground?
Call it the Republican’s secret weapon. Or more precisely, local media coverage. That is, much of the disparity between what drives the ad nauseam hand wringing in Washington and recent polls can be attributed to what’s actually being reported in the Heartland and elsewhere, in states where voters are actually voting, because here and there, coverage of the race is has been much, much different.
Take this example for instance.
When Romney misspoke and initially stated he was against the “Blunt-Rubio” contraception amendment being debated in the U.S. Senate during an interview with the Ohio News Network, he became the subject of a flurry of news coverage with some networks offering nearly wall-to-wall reports and analysis of this “major gaffe.”
What did Ohio voters see? Nada.
A search of Ohio’s three largest newspapers – the Columbus Dispatch, the Cincinnati Enquirer and the Cleveland Plain Dealer – yielded a single result for “Mitt Romney Blunt.”
But those headlines, coupled with Rush Limbaugh’s inappropriate comments about a George Washington University student, were all the rage in the Beltway.
Readers of the New York Times saw “Obama backs student in furor with Limbaugh on birth control” and “Romney sets off furor on contraception bill” in their morning paper as well as stories about “Romney trying to recast wealth to be seen as asset” and “Santorum’s persistent Google problem.”
Over at the Washington Post, front-page headlines included: “President calls student blasted by Rush Limbaugh,” “Santorum takes heat for ‘snob’ comment,” “A Santorum barrage in the culture wars” and “Romney, Santorum jab at each other.”
It’s no wonder the chattering class is so freaked out. But as papers in their geographic neck-of-the-woods focus on off-message ramblings and sideline antics, local news coverage has been telling an entirely different story – literally.
For every complaint that the Republican candidates aren’t focusing enough attention on jobs there’s a “Romney talks jobs in Stark” headline in The Repository of Canton.
Or when we’re told they need to shift focus to Obama – like now! – the Akron Beacon Journal writes how “Romney puts focus on Obama’s record.”
And what about gas prices, the Keystone pipeline and ObamaCare? Got that covered too.
“Romney focuses on jobs, energy, bashes Obama on health care” read another headline in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
The voters of Ohio were also treated to the following three headlines in the Plain Dealer alone: “Mitt Romney talks about jobs and ‘America’s Promise’ at Cleveland State University Rally,” “Mitt Romney talks health care, seeks to make voters out of ‘fighters’ in Youngstown” and “Rick Santorum pushes economic themes in Chillicothe, Ohio.”
As cited above, these headlines and stories are having a positive effect on the race. Although Romney has been the main beneficiary, even Santorum, who many say has no chance in a general election, is within only a few points of the incumbent.
Based on that evidence, a case could be made that thanks to local coverage voters would be well served by a longer primary. As more states vote, more voters are exposed to the message of the Republican candidates and the Republican Party in general.
Either way, when some hyperventilating strategist claims Obama is the only winner of the Republican primary, take a step back and immerse yourself in the tableau of headlines from the primary states casting ballots because believe it or not, outside the Beltway, the Republican primary is being played out on our issues, on our terms, in our wheelhouse.