The race is not always to the swift
Posted by metaphorical on 14 February 2008
[Huckabee] also overwhelmingly won Virginians who identified themselves as conservatives, pointing to continued resistance toward McCain among many of the GOP’s base voters.
The LA Times says that as if it’s a bad thing. But if you’re the Republicans, that’s exactly what you want – a candidate whose appeal stretches into independents, Democrats, and liberals, even at a cost of some conservatives. After all, these are the primaries. Where are those conservatives going to go in the general election – into the Obama camp? Are any of the evangelical Christians who voted for Huckabee yesterday instead of McCain going to vote for Obama (or Clinton) come the general election?
This is similar to the question of delegate counts vs popular counts that this blog has already visited. And it’s a problem for the candidates. McCain is running a smart campaign (finally!) with one aim – to win the general election. Everything else is a subsidiary goal to that. If he has to lose some primary votes, and squeak instead of sail into the nomination, in order to retain the broadest possible appeal after the convention, so be it.
But the press doesn’t allow that. It defines each week as if it were an NCAA Sweet 16 knockout tournament, instead of treating the primaries like a long baseball season. The two have very different strategies. You can’t rest your best players nearly as often in a knockout. You can’t say, it’s okay to split here in Chicago, the Boston series next week is more important. So too, as the media defines the game, you can’t temporarily sacrifice any of your party’s base, expecting, rightly, to get them back.
And the media has power. If they say the race is close, or – heaven forbid – you’re losing, it becomes true. So the candidates are forced to consider adopting a less effective strategy, just to pass the media test.
It’s great, frankly, that the press wields such influence. Even if I weren’t a journalist myself, I wouldn’t have it any other way. But with great power comes great responsibility. In this case, that means smart analyses that take into account the way the candidates define the race they’re running.