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  • Print publication year: 2016
  • Online publication date: May 2016

4 - Sex is no story


At first glance, it would seem like a campaign manager's dream. In the midst of a U.S. House race in the fall of 2014, Samuel Raymond found himself fielding interview requests from the most prominent political news outlets in the country. With his boss, West Virginia Democrat Nick Rahall, locked in a fierce reelection fight, Politico, the New York Times, and other major media organizations were clamoring for a story. Given this national platform, Raymond tried to cast the congressman as independent-minded, unafraid of sticking to his principles in the face of party pressure. “I truly believe he has reinforced his brand by standing up to President Obama,” Raymond told Politico in September. The next month, The Hill newspaper in Washington, DC, reported on Rahall's efforts to help one of his constituents get the veteran's benefits she was owed. “Nick Rahall does make sure that the little people and his state are covered,” Terri Fullerton-Clark told a reporter. “He stood up for me and I'm a nobody.” Although the stories typically framed Rahall's prospects as dim, this was the kind of high-profile exposure that you'd think even political veterans would kill for.

But to the campaign, all that national attention was irrelevant. “We didn't care,” Raymond said. It wasn't that the campaign wasn't concerned about the media. They were. But it was the local news that mattered. “The two Charleston papers, plus these local outlets that are even smaller – those are the ones we tried to push the local issues on,” Raymond explained. “We wanted to portray him as the congressman delivering local results. And working closely with local papers is the best way to do that.”

The Rahall campaign's perspective was hardly unique. For all the attention to the rapid transformation of the news environment in the first decades of the twenty-first century, traditional news outlets remain essential to U.S. House campaigns, for male and female candidates alike. A 2010 senior campaign advisor to New Hampshire Democrat Ann Kuster told us that despite “a lot of personal relationships with the national political media,” he relied most heavily on the local paper “to reach the voters.” Survey data from October 2014 reveal that citizens were more than four times as likely to get information about the House race in their district from a local newspaper than a national one.

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