Time to get serious about the caucuses

I read with interest the Bloomberg News story on the front page of Friday’s Gazette, which reported that this is one of the cheapest caucus and primary campaigns in recent history.

One of the stated reasons is that so many debates with the top candidates for the Republican nomination have been televised on news channels that the campaigns see scant reason to spend money on ads that frame their messages.

We hear a lot from critics who say the news media focus on minutiae about someone’s appearance, sexual habits or who’s ahead and not on what candidates are trying to say or their stands on issues. Yet, we’ve had  dozen televised chances to hear Republican candidates explain their visions and to respond to accompanying challenges. That adds up to plenty of opportunities to learn about candidates’ issues.

The candidates apparently believe they are getting efficient chances to reach potential voters. The Bloomberg story pointed out that the top nine Republican hopefuls spent $53 million through September on advertising instead of the $132 million spent by the same time in 2008.

I often think you do not learn as much from debates as you do when examining candidates’ statements on an issue or their pattern of policy decisions and behavior. But we at least have been able to see these GOP candidates articulate positions, defend those positions and perform consistently under public pressure. And with so many debates candidates get second chances to clarify and even recover from gaffes that could consume a campaign. The shelf life for embarrassing an opponent diminishes and the ability to see a broader picture grows.

To help you know more about these candidates The Gazette newspaper is going to devote a page each Tuesday leading up to the caucuses to breaking down where Republican candidates stand on several issues. The first report this week will focus on jobs and the economy. In subsequent weeks we’ll look at tax policy, fiscal responsibility, health care and hot topics that arouse political passion, such as abortion and immigration.

Late this month we’ll also publish in the newspaper a guide to how the caucuses work, too.

You can follow The Gazette reports on the caucuses at IowaCaucus.com.

The Gazette has banded together with Lee Enterprises’ Iowa newspapers to cover all of these issues and we will work with them through the caucuses, as well. Pooling the experienced political reporting talent from The Gazette and the Lee papers — the Quad-City Times, Muscatine Journal, The Courier in Waterloo and Cedar Falls, Sioux City Journal, and Mason City Globe-Gazette — should give all of our readers more depth in the coverage of these important caucuses on our presidential selection calendar.

The Republicans get the spotlight for now because Democrats will nominate President Obama for re-election. His turn for more direct involvement in the campaign is on the horizon.

Attention is growing in Iowa because we are less than a month away from the Jan. 3 caucuses. Personal appearances are picking up, especially in western Iowa by candidates, but also around the state for others with an interest in presidential politics.

Indeed, this is the holiday season — the one for Iowa’s quadrennial winter sport of presidential politics.

Links to a couple of columns by Gazette columnist Todd Dorman.

Entangling Religion and Politics Diminishes Both

I've got good Newt and bad Newt

This is my Sunday, Dec. 4, column in The Gazette newspaper, available early Sundays in our e-edition.


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