MATTHEW GAGNON

‘Pay attention to me!’ political candidates say

Posted Sept. 01, 2011, at 5:36 p.m.
Last modified Sept. 02, 2011, at 5:37 a.m.

On the national level, there has been a lot of talk about the cold shoulder Rep. Ron Paul has received from the media despite a very impressive showing at the Ames Straw Poll and being in third place in many national polls. The media establishment, it seems, doesn’t take Paul seriously as a threat to win the nomination, and as a result hasn’t devoted much ink or airtime to him.

But here in Maine, there are others who feel that they aren’t being given a fair shake.

Chris Cilliza of the Washington Post recently dismissed Scott D’Amboise as a serious challenger to Sen. Olympia Snowe, citing his inability to raise much money and his propensity for making ridiculous statements. He likewise labeled another Snowe challenger, Andrew Ian Dodge, as equally unsuitable as an alternative because of his atypical lifestyle, calling him a “cyber-punk.”

Naturally, D’Amboise and Dodge believe themselves to be serious candidates. But are they?

The argument from such gadfly candidates usually goes a little something like this: “If only the media would treat me like a serious candidate, cover what I do and stop dismissing me, my campaign would take off. The media is picking winners and losers!”

This kind of argument is made in every election, almost universally by candidates who have not gotten any traction (yet) and are being ignored by the media.

Sometimes they are right. There have been a number of instances where a candidate viewed by the media as on the fringe and unlikely to win has shocked everyone and proven their relevance. One of the best examples of this is Gov. Paul LePage, who many (including yours truly) expected to finish well behind a number of other candidates in the Republican primary last year.

But that almost never happens, and when it does there is usually a very good reason. In LePage’s case, he was an established public figure who had built a very impressive political ground game and was tapping into the mood of the electorate. The handicappers simply didn’t see or understand that like they should have, and made a mistake in their evaluations.

Most of the time, candidates who complain about not being treated seriously by the media don’t deserve to be.

So this does beg the question, what is a serious candidate? Does the media “anointing” someone as a front-runner and ignoring another end up choosing who is to be taken seriously? Is the lack of media coverage responsible for the minor candidate’s inability to break through?

Not really. The media’s ability to decide a race for voters is very much overblown. Candidates who receive overwhelming negative press win all the time, and candidates who are beloved by the media lose all the time. Treatment of a candidate rarely matters.

Winning a political race takes a number of things. First and foremost it takes a candidate who has the ability to actually appeal to voters. Then it takes a message that those voters will respond to. Then it takes enough money to actually introduce yourself to those voters. Then it takes a good campaign operation to do the grunt work of the election such as organizing people and getting them to the polls.

Candidates such as Ron Paul are ignored by the media mostly because they know that a 76-year-old non-interventionist libertarian isn’t going to win Iowa, Florida, Michigan, South Carolina or any of the key states in the 2012 primary, based on who the voters in those states are.

And guess what? Ron Paul thinks so too. He isn’t in the race to win, he’s in it to change the Republican Party. And in any event, if the media was wrong and he could win those states, he could do so without their help.

Candidates such as D’Amboise and Dodge are ignored by the media because thus far, everything needed to win a race is what they lack. No money. No grass-roots army. Thus far, their only hope is Republican distrust of Olympia Snowe, and that isn’t going to be enough.

If either wants to be taken seriously and have a chance at winning, they should complain less about the media and prove that they deserve our attention.

Matthew Gagnon, a Hampden native, is a Republican political strategist. He previously worked for Sen. Susan Collins and the National Republican Senatorial Committee. You can reach him at matthew.o.gagnon@gmail.com and read his blog at www.pinetreepolitics.com.

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