Journalists, GOP Meet in New Orleans: An Uneasy Partnership

Journalists, GOP Meet in New Orleans: An Uneasy Partnership

By Carl M. Cannon - June 17, 2011

NEW ORLEANS -- In between their bowls of gumbo and plates of crawfish étouffée, old friends and sometime rivals are meeting here at the Republican Leadership Conference this week to compare notes, dope out the 2012 candidates, and talk election strategy.

Paul West and Karen Tumulty came on the same flight from Washington. John Dickerson briefly joined a couple of friends from campaigns past in the hotel bar before he had to go on television. Although they are in different camps these days, Jonathan Martin and Reid Wilson sat beside each other in the Grand Ballroom of the Riverside Hilton while Newt Gingrich wowed the crowd.

And that's just from the press section. (Those reporters hail from Tribune Media, The Washington Post, Slate/CBS, Politico and National Journal Hotline, respectively.)

Presidential campaigns are like old home week for professional pols -- and political writers, too. You catch up with old colleagues, as well as GOP sources. Among the journalists, however, the good feelings are spiced this campaign cycle with something akin to survivors' guilt. The Great Recession came on top of a historic decline in print advertising revenues and the fracturing of the networks' audience shares. Both trends were accelerated by the arrival of digital journalism -- which you are reading now.

Just as Republicans are united in their zeal to defeat President Obama, the denizens of the media -- print, broadcast or online -- are united in our zeal to cover these birds. And to both camps, Republicans and the press, the 2012 campaign seems to be meandering as slowly as the muddy Mississippi that flows outside this hotel inexorably toward the Gulf of Mexico.

"I like whoever's going to win," says Lynn Cheramie, a New Orleans native who was a Ronald Reagan delegate in 1980. "And I think we're having a hard time deciding that."

But appearances can be misleading. The river outside the Republican Leadership Conference only looks as though it's flowing placidly toward the gulf. Beneath the surface, those waters are forbidding. They are deep enough to support cruise ships and coal barges, and the current is fast enough that anyone who falls in is likely to drown.

Likewise, this campaign is finally picking up momentum.

On Monday, seven presidential candidates met on a stage at New Hampshire's Saint Anselm College. For Republicans who had been hearing the 2012 GOP field routinely described as "weak," the Saint Anselm debate was a welcome event. "The field didn't look weak Monday night," said longtime Louisiana conservative Woody Jenkins.

Jenkins apparently is not alone in this perception. Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty passed on the conference here, but all the other debaters booked their passage to New Orleans, as did former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, an announced candidate who didn't make CNN's cut at Saint Anselm; Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who flirted briefly with a presidential run; South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, who is playing footsie with a draft movement being organized by his fans; and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who is still said to be eyeing a run.

Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman agreed to come, but cancelled due to a cold -- though he sent high-level surrogates: his wife and two of his daughters. Those who did make the trip found some 2,000 Republican activists and grass-roots party officials, most of whom were energized, and all of whom were looking for the arguments -- if not the actual candidate -- that would restore their party to the White House.

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Carl M. Cannon is the Washington Bureau Chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.

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