Iowa’s clout ebbs as can­di­dates vie to go vi­ral

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - News - BY JONATHAN MARTIN New York Times

Sun­day marks ex­actly eight months un­til the Iowa cau­cuses, but only a single, long-shot Demo­cratic can­di­date in the party’s sprawl­ing field, Rep. Tim Ryan, spent the week­end cam­paign­ing there.

In­stead, 14 White House hope­fuls es­chewed Iowa’s cozy church base­ments and VFW posts to gather at a hangar-size con­ven­tion cen­ter in this lib­eral hub, where they jos­tled for at­ten­tion at the Cal­i­for­nia Demo­cratic Con­ven­tion. And the party’s fron­trun­ner, Joe Bi­den, was speak­ing to LGBT ac­tivists in Ohio, a state bet­ter known as a gen­eral elec­tion bat­tle­ground than a pri­mary proving ground.

This week­end was no aber­ra­tion: Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial con­tenders have al­ready com­bined to visit more than 30 states and ter­ri­to­ries for pub­lic events, far more than in any past nom­i­nat­ing con­test when can­di­dates would spend the vast ma­jor­ity of their time in Iowa and New Hampshire.

The ex­plo­sive growth of so­cial me­dia, the in­creas­ing di­ver­sity of the Demo­cratic elec­torate and changes to the party’s elec­toral cal­en­dar and de­bate format have cre­ated more of a na­tional pri­mary than ever be­fore.

The shift re­flects the new imperative­s driv­ing cam­paign strat­egy. With vot­ers in­creas­ingly con­sum­ing news on­line, can­di­dates are ea­ger to go vi­ral, which helps build their grass-roots and small-donor net­works. This has made the feed­back loop be­tween the in­ter­net and tele­vi­sion news the most pow­er­ful ti­dal force in pol­i­tics, prompt­ing cam­paigns to ap­proach states as wouldbe sound stages for spe­cific mes­sages they are try­ing to de­liver and con­stituen­cies they are hop­ing to reach.

One sign of a suc­cess­ful event, ac­cord­ing to cam­paign aides work­ing in this pri­mary: Did cable news sta­tions tele­vise live from the venue?

“You don’t have to be in Des Moines or Manch­ester to have a vi­ral mo­ment and if that hap­pens you’re in front of mil­lions of peo­ple and can raise po­ten­tially mil­lions of dol­lars,” said Tad Devine, a long­time Demo­cratic strate­gist.

This fo­cus on break­ing through on­line will only in­ten­sify this sum­mer as the can­di­dates strain to ac­cu­mu­late the 130,000 donors re­quired for par­tic­i­pa­tion in the fall de­bates – a thresh­old that puts a higher pre­mium on news me­dia pen­e­tra­tion than grass-roots or­ga­ni­za­tion.

“In the past, can­di­dates chased big donors and en­dorse­ments,” said Donna Brazile, the for­mer Demo­cratic chair­woman. “Now they’re chasing in­di­vid­ual donors and try­ing to make sure they can get on the stage where it all mat­ters,” she added, re­fer­ring to the tele­vised de­bates.

The tra­di­tional early nom­i­nat­ing states are hardly be­ing ig­nored by the two-dozen can­di­dates, and are still poised to play their usual role of win­now­ing the field. But they no longer have what was ef­fec­tively a stran­gle­hold on the time, money and at­ten­tion of the White House as­pi­rants in the year lead­ing up to the pri­maries. And states like Cal­i­for­nia that were once mere ATMs for pres­i­den­tial hope­fuls – who would fly in, raise money and leave – are wel­com­ing can­di­dates for tra­di­tional cam­paign events.

That is in part be­cause of the in­creased im­por­tance of Su­per Tues­day, which has moved up on the cal­en­dar. That one day alone may of­fer more than 35% of all del­e­gates and could in­clude such large, racially di­verse states as Cal­i­for­nia and Texas. Early vot­ing will take place in both states in the weeks usu­ally dom­i­nated by the whiter states of Iowa and New Hampshire. This new fo­cus on places whose de­mo­graph­ics re­flect the Demo­cratic coali­tion, the party’s drift left and Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s stun­ning elec­tion and di­vi­sive pres­i­dency have also elevated a dif­fer­ent set of pri­or­i­ties in the cam­paign.

“If you’re look­ing at that cal­en­dar, and you know you can’t just win this with white vot­ers, then you have to go to other states,” said Jess Mo­rales Rock­etto, a Demo­cratic strate­gist, re­fer­ring to the states with sig­nif­i­cant His­panic and African-Amer­i­can pop­u­la­tions that will cast bal­lots on Su­per Tues­day, which is tak­ing place three days af­ter heav­ily black South Carolina.

No can­di­date bet­ter il­lus­trates how dif­fer­ent this race is than Pete But­tigieg, the 37-year-old South Bend, In­di­ana, mayor who at the start of the year was known to only the most ded­i­cated po­lit­i­cal junkies. But a strong turn at a CNN town hall in March, a will­ing­ness to sit for just about any news me­dia in­ter­view and an abil­ity to get off pithy one-lin­ers quickly en­deared him to some Democrats – par­tic­u­larly up­scale white vot­ers taken with his lit­er­ary ref­er­ences and mul­ti­lin­gual­ism.

Bi­den, whom the pres­i­dent has elevated with near-daily at­tacks, is the most ob­vi­ous ben­e­fi­ciary of the out­size role Trump is play­ing in this race. But an­other can­di­date has also been helped, though less no­tice­ably, by tak­ing on the pres­i­dent: Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

While she has won plau­dits on the left for her raft of am­bi­tious pol­icy pro­pos­als, an anal­y­sis of Warren’s re­cent im­prove­ment in the polls in­di­cates that her growth co­in­cides with an uptick in men­tions on cable news – a jump that be­gan af­ter she called for Trump’s im­peach­ment and then had an im­pres­sive show­ing on a CNN town hall last month.


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