The nominees for the 2008 presidential race will be selected in 2007. The tempo of the new political process, driven by 24-hour cable news, Internet bloggers, conservative talk radio, and liberal NPR is so rapid that the nomination race cannot exist in stasis waiting for Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina to get around to holding their votes in early 2008. Well before they open their caucuses or polling places, this nomination, in each party, will have been decided by the national media coverage during 2007.
In 2004, we saw the precursor of this expedited process when Howard Dean upset Kerry’s early lead in the fall of 2003, propelled ahead by his Internet fundraising and antiwar positioning. Then, in December 2003, the establishment media unloaded on the former Vermont governor — likely driven by disinformation passed around by other Democratic candidates — and he was gone by Christmas. Kerry’s victory in Iowa a few weeks later was no more than a projection on the Iowa screen of the results settled at the national level the previous month.
A recent Gallup poll found that 35 percent of Americans — probably everyone who votes in a caucus or primary — watch cable news stations frequently. The intensity of viewer and voter interest and the ubiquity of the political coverage on these stations force the process to accelerate and to come to an early conclusion.
The role of Iowa, New Hampshire, etc.
What is the role for the early, small caucus/primary states in 2007? They will not have held their primaries or caucuses yet, but the state-by-state polls published regularly in 2007 become the equivalent of virtual primaries in each of these states. But to win these polls, it doesn’t matter so much what happens within each small state but what is going on nationally. Hillary, for example, has moved from down in the pack to a lead in New Hampshire, and perhaps in Iowa, by announcing her candidacy nationally. Her perfunctory visits to each state likely had little to do with her surge compared to her national media efforts.
The old model — a Jimmy Carter labors in obscurity in the Iowa vineyards and then is discovered nationally after he wins there and sweeps all remaining primaries — is quaint but obsolete. Now you have to win the American Media Primary of 2007 and then your victory is ratified in the primaries and caucuses of 2008.
The importance of the front-runner