Sunday, February 03, 2008

"Big Mo" No Mo'?

Back in the day, we really didn't care about the primaries. I'm sure we all kept score, but really we never got swept away. Sure, Regan and Clinton had to fight it out, but, then again, they had the "Big Mo'." Momentum was the key! A candidate comes in to fanfare, he (or she) places high and then wins one and goes on to take the nomination. Sure, there where ups and downs, but the "Big Mo'" was the rule. But this year was different. McCain was dead, gone and came back. Romney was right there at the top (even won like 3 primaries) and he just never caught fire.

One reason is because we have two open tickets. Really, that hasn't happened since 1960 (if you believe in the VP rule). So, we have a number in the field, and non dropped off until about a couple weeks ago. Momentum just wouldn't shake off the dead weight.

Another thought is the "who we want" vs. "who can win" camps. If McCain, Thompson, and Giuliani are strong in the latter, then it may be telling that their combined scores in Iowa were within a point of the one and two spots. Giuliani, at least in my book, could have won in the former days of primaries. By Florida there is only one left, and if McCain hadn't come back, if Thompson had been out early it could had easily been a Huckabee or Romney (both fighting for the same base support). But after New Hampshire, there were more candidates in the race not less. The reaction seemed to be a rapid hardening of the "who can win" camp behind McCain as the candidate that was there, winning, and spotlighted by the media.

The Media has, of course, changed. Maybe it started with "I like Ike," but the Media became the king maker when candidates and pundits applied 1960s Madison Ave. message packaging to the races. 1964 had a huge red, "M.A.D." phone for thirty-seconds and reports Neo-Nazism to lay Goldwater low (although with him it was something of a fly v. sledgehammer event). For years the establishment Democrats and the Media had been BFFs, but with the New Left's rise and the loss of the South, Republicans started clawing out of the minority. Conceding Regan's invincible skills, they sharpened their knives and waited. In 1992, they destroyed Bush I and for the next eight years protected the Clintons, but the alternative Media fought back seething from the perceived liberal bias in the election and thereafter. With at least two major media factions duking it out, the days of sober-faced anchors declaring the front-runner and demoralizing a candidate's support are long gone; replaced by prolonged disputes on coverage, strength, and, even, results.

Ultimately, the Rocky III-like short bout to the nominee has been replaced by the ending to North to Alaska. Next time, will likely be different because there will be an incumbent, but with enough viable candidates the primaries are now marathons not to be won on a little momentum alone.

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