They Shoot Horses

The national press wants a (dead) horse race

On the morning of the Iowa caucus, any number of stories could have been written predicting that if a presidential candidate did not do well that day he or she would drop out of the race. It could certainly have been written (correctly) about Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, or Tom Tancredo. But a story appeared on the Politico blog, picked up by Fox News, saying Fred Thompson would drop out and endorse John McCain.

This was a body blow to Thompson volunteers across Iowa, and Blackberry and cell-phone text messages were flying. It was necessary for campaign workers, on a crucial election day, to spend time reassuring volunteers and Iowa voters that the report wasn't correct.

Just before the New Hampshire primary, the cable networks spent two days examining the carcass of the Hillary Clinton campaign, sure to be buried by the momentum and charisma of Barack Obama. New Hampshire voters had another idea.

There has been a continuous snark about Mitt Romney. He was widely derided for not telling the truth about automobile jobs to Michigan voters—just before he won the state.

John Edwards has been ignored, except for occasional speculation on when he will drop out of the race.

The presidential campaigns have been going on for two years, and just when primary season has begun, the political press, especially the talking heads of cable news, are trying to finish it. There is an obvious effort to marginalize certain candidates and get them out of the race. The media wants a Clinton-Obama one-on-one battle and Edwards just screws up the story line. They obviously want the Republican field narrowed—it's just too confusing to have different people winning different states.

The networks make no secret of the fact that covering all these campaigns on a daily basis is eating up news budgets. They will be scaling back coverage and will focus on the front runners. Their problem is in determining who the Republican front runners are.

Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann can be seen on YouTube laughing at Republican speeches. They dissed McCain's victory speech in New Hampshire. They seemed personally offended that Thompson didn't announce his withdrawal from the race the night of the South Carolina primary.

Joe Scarborough, an alleged conservative and former Republican congressman, spends his morning show on MSNBC either interviewing or touting Mike Huckabee. His constant "analysis" on his show and on election-night coverage is that Thompson is merely in the race to hurt Huckabee and help McCain.

Other analysts have observed that it's Huckabee, taking evangelical voters away from Romney, keeping McCain in the race. McCain continues to be propped up by independent voters. Without Huckabee, the evangelicals would vote for Romney (or possibly Thompson) and McCain would not have won New Hampshire and South Carolina.

The talking heads and the pundits—and yes, the pollsters—have demonstrated this campaign season that they are not infallible. But the wall-to-wall coverage requires non-stop talking and speculation.

I read and listen to it all, as do most political junkies. But the obvious sniping at so-called second-tier candidates is grossly unfair. Only a few small states (and Michigan for the Republicans) have voted. That there has been a variety of winners is great for democracy.

Nothing could be finer than to have a variety of candidates battle all the way to the conventions. It's a great story, it will illuminate more issues, it will force the eventual winner to be a better candidate, and it will give more people a chance to participate in the process.

Remember, McCain was confidently predicted to be out of national politics forever three months ago. They dismiss Romney quite often, but someone ought to point out he now leads in delegates to the convention and he is the one Republican who has the money to compete in a national campaign until the very end.

Cable news pundits do neither themselves nor the American people a service when they try to influence the outcome of this election.

They need to stop it.