Campaign 2012:The new Newt, the old Mitt

January 26th, 2012

BaylessThe following opinion piece was written by journalism professor Fred Bayles, a former USA Today and AP reporter. He is also the director of BU’s State House Program.

The latest in this season’s breathless reporting on the “dramatically changed” Republican presidential campaign shows once again that the news media is short of memory and long on hyperbole.

There seems to be a loss of historical perspective in the forward rush we see with the end of each primary. Romney won a comfortable victory in New Hampshire, better than he did in 2008. He suffered a poor showing in South Carolina vote, yes, but better than his fourth place showing in 2008 when he came in behind Fred Thompson (remember him?).

There is no indication Romney was ever loved by the conservative, evangelical leanings of the Palmetto State. He may have led in the pre-vote polls, but a significant number of those polled said they weren’t firmly committed to how they would finally vote. This wobbly support suggests voters were happy to find an excuse to vote against the candidate they were being told had the best chance of beating Obama. Romney’s tone deafness over his financial history gave them that opportunity.

Now we have several quickie polls out that put Gingrich ahead of Romney in Florida. Is this a surprise? Not really when we look at two factors. First there is the question about the accuracy of a poll of less than 600 people responding to the Gingrich hype that followed in the days after the South Carolina vote. Second is Romney’s history in Florida, where McCain won with 36 percent of the vote to Romney’s 31 percent (Mike Huckabee and Rudy Giuliani both scored in the low double digits; there were a total of nine serious candidates in that race).

What we should remember is that much of this overblown reaction to each primary’s results is due in no small part to the media’s own expectations. Romney should be the logical choice to run against Obama, so there is no expectation he will prevail (and I’m taking odds he will). Still when those expectations are denied, or delayed, we forget the context of history in our “shock” at the results. So in a few short days Romney goes from inevitable based on Iowa and New Hampshire, to deeply in trouble based on South Carolina and the shift of a few votes in Iowa.

Watching these lateral stampedes by the media – and Republican voters – reminds one of the sudden rush you witness when a new checkout counter opens at a busy store. Right now voters in the more conservative states are looking for a better option than a hold-your-nose vote for Romney.

It is a circular question as to whether these sudden shifts, and their news coverage, are a reaction of the media to the voters or a reaction of the voters to the media.

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