GOP Presidential candidate Fred Thompson was out and about in Iowa today, continuing his tour of population centers, meeting and greeting voters and spreading his message while his poll numbers continue upwards.
That image contrasts directly, however, with the impression given Monday night by a panel of expert commentators on Fox News Special Report that all but declared the Thompson campaign dead on arrival.
I probably wouldn't comment on the disparity between what DC pundits are saying versus what is happening out in America, since they are so often out of sync, except that the same pundits only a moment earlier were lauding GOP candidate John McCain's campaign and his rising position in the polls.
But they neatly ignored the fact that due to Thompson's surging popularity he is flat out tied with McCain in Iowa!
McCain, whose campaign was declared dead last summer, and Thompson, who now is the apparent campaign corpse du jour, are both surging and are tied for third place behind Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney. This is important because regardless of which one pulls out the third place finish, assuming that neither Huckabee nor Romney drops like a rock in the next two days, they are so close that they both can and should receive enough support to continue their campaigns.
Fox News put a poll graphic on the screen last night that showed Romney and Huckabee separated by one percentage point, described as a "statistical dead heat."
But Thompson and McCain are separated by only a fraction of a percentage point that isn't just a statistical dead heat, it is a flat out tie, given that polls have varying margins of error. In fact, without a huge sampling of likely voters, I wouldn't recommend using a fraction in any poll report.
What is more amazing is that both Thompson and McCain have been coming on strong in recent weeks as their campaigns put some timely energy into the Iowa caucuses which will be held Thursday - but only McCain is getting credit for it from Fox News.
In addition to measuring Thompson's campaign for its coffin, the Fox News panel of experts also tittered a bit at his 17-minute speech recently posted on his website. Way too long they say.
Well, maybe for them, but I watched it all. And if you are an Iowa farmer in the dead of winter with time on your hands until the spring thaw, taking 17 minutes to determine if this is the guy you want to lead our country probably isn't an unrealistic concept.
So what is Thompson doing, while the Fox News experts guffaw, and Huckabee and Romney beat the stuffing out of each other? He is on the ground, shaking hands, and leaving Iowa Republicans with a lasting image of his strength and his stability. He also said some nice things about McCain over the weekend, which I found to be a refreshing change from the Huckabee/Romney/Rudy Giuliani media circus.
If I was Fred Thompson's campaign manager I'd produce a 30-second commercial right now showing the front-runners beating the tar out of each other, calling each other out, raging at each other, smacking each other down, and I would contrast those images with scenes of Thompson's quiet strength and stability - straight from his website video.
I'd title it Fred Thompson, Calm In The Eye Of The Storm and I'd run it in the biggest media markets in Iowa ASAP. Then I'd ship it to New Hampshire and do the same thing. It probably won't put Thompson in first or second place, but the dirty little secret of the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary is that in the larger scheme of things, they hardly matter.
Don't get me wrong. They both have tremendous media value, since they are the only games in town for the moment. The holidays are media doldrums and anything that will give reporters, editors and producers something to do to keep the ad money rolling in will get major coverage.
But neither Iowa nor New Hampshire can produce meaningful delegate counts by themselves. By the way, have you noticed who isn't mentioned hardly at all when Iowa and New Hampshire come up? That's right, GOP frontrunner Rudy Giuliani!
That's because Giuliani is well aware that in the overall scheme Iowa just isn't that important. Iowa is nearly the size of New England, but it has a smaller population than Connecticut, meaning it will send far less delegates to the national conventions.
When was the last time you saw a horde of media vans scurrying around Connecticut, invading diners and breakfast nooks, asking us our opinions? Yeah, I can't remember either.
Giuliani is keeping his eye on the big states that control the most votes - Florida, New York, California, Texas, Michigan, and Pennsylvania to name a few. He knows that they are where he has to win and frankly, he doesn't need the name recognition that many of the other candidates get from the early focus on Iowa. Interesting isn't it, that the media is encouraging the GOP's leading candidates to beat themselves senseless in the early going, all but ensuring they won't be around for the later primaries?
But for candidates like John McCain who has been making a remarkable comeback from the dead, and Fred Thompson who is not playing to the media but is working directly with the people who count the most, the voters, Iowa and New Hampshire can give them a nice boost.
Unlike many commentators I will not make any predictions on who will win Iowa or New Hampshire in either party. There is still too much that is too fluid and the polls are really no help. The Des Moines Register poll is several percentage points different from what Fox News is showing, and that just adds to the confusion.
The voters will decide in Iowa on Thursday and New Hampshire next week, then we'll know.
In the meantime, it would be nice if the "Fair and Balanced" network tries a little harder to live up to its billing. I don't mind that commentators have their opinions and their biases, that's why I watch them and listen to what they say.
But at the very least they should use the same criteria for all candidates when they are making their points. Wearing their preferences on their sleeves is OK, but using skewed criteria to skew the outcome is not.
Tuesday, January 01, 2008