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Media Analysis Is Off on GOP Race

By Scott Rasmussen

Reporters have been breathlessly and endlessly covering every event and comment in the 2008 race for the White House. In what may be the longest election coverage in history, a look at the Republican nomination process raises questions as to whether the reporters are paying attention to the things that really matter.

The most recent example of this is the straw poll held in Ames, Iowa a couple of weeks ago. Despite the fact that leading prospects such as Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson, and John McCain did not participate, the press coverage hailed the event as being terribly significant. The big winner, of course, was Mitt Romney. Second place went to Mike Huckabee who hoped the strong showing would vault him into the top tier of candidates.

Both Romney and Huckabee received a minor bounce in the polls for a few days. But, two weeks later, the national polls show that the Iowa event had virtually no impact. Romney remains mired in third place barely ahead of John McCain. Huckabee's support continues to be measured in the mid-single digits.

It's not really that the press got the coverage wrong. Romney did what he had to do in Iowa and did it well. Huckabee did exceed expectations, apparently on the strength of a well-received speech. What the reporters got wrong was a sense of context and scale. Despite the enormous coverage, less than half the nation's voters even knew that Romney was the winner. It is fair to assume that a much smaller number attached any particular significance to it.

The same lack of context has been seen in coverage of the many campaign "debates" this season. Reporters comment on the words, the style, the comebacks and everything else about the debates except the lack of public interest. Ratings have been down and most voters say the events are "boring.'

Earlier in the year, the nation's political commentators dubbed McCain the frontrunner despite the fact the Giuliani consistently led in the polls. Today, of course, Giuliani remains on top in the polls and McCain's campaign is struggling to stay afloat. Some reporters have suggested that Giuliani only leads because voters don't understand his position on the issues. But, Rasmussen Reports polling shows that two-thirds of Republicans already view the former New York City Mayor as politically moderate or liberal. Perhaps, the conventional wisdom held by reporters is more out-of-synch with Republican Primary Voters than Rudy Giuliani.

More recently, the same reporters have picked up on a story line that Fred Thompson's delay in entering the race has been a mistake. However, the polls show Thompson remains more of a threat to Giuliani's lead that Romney. His support is down a bit from its peak, but he's still showing a lot of potential. As Rasmussen Reports has noted many times in recent months, that may change when Thompson does enter the race for real. But, it may not.

The bottom line is that no one can say with confidence what will happen 2008 arrives and Republican Primary voters get to have their say. That's because the current phase of the campaign season is like Spring Training baseball. The insiders love it and nobody else is paying attention. The insiders thrive because they've missed the endless analysis of minor gaffes and guessing which stories will have legs.

For those who love the game, it's easy to overemphasize the spring training events like Iowa straw polls and "debates" with no one watching. In reality, though, spring training is a chance for the players to get ready for the season and for the insiders to get a first look at how the talent is shaping up for the coming season. Those who really understand the game know that spring training victories don't count once the regular season begins.

Rasmussen Reports

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