Editor’s column: 16 GOP candidates and 16 months till the ’16 election
Over the next three or four Mondays, I’m going to write about presidential politics. You’ve been warned.
Why, oh, why would I do this in a tiny western Colorado newspaper well removed from the early battlegrounds of a far-off election?
Part of it is that I like to have a good flow of letters to the editor and hope to stimulate discussion, as strident and divided as we all tend to be concerning national politics and particularly presidential elections.
To be completely honest, though, it’s mostly because I really, really enjoy presidential politics and have been fortunate in my newspaper career to have had a front-row seat to many campaigns.
I enjoy it nearly as much as I enjoy a football game, which I like a lot, and I understand the nuances of politics much better than I understand the complexity of blocking schemes, defenses and pass patterns.
I gravitated toward political junkiness in high school, amid the aftermath of the Vietnam War and the shock of Watergate, which, like many journalists of my age, helped inspire my career path.
I got to cover my first presidential candidate in the spring of 1980 — like pro sports playoffs, campaigns were much shorter then — when Ronald Reagan visited Grand Island, Nebraska, and I reported on the visit for the Daily Nebraskan, my student newspaper.
I dropped my press credential in the hallway between the small room where Reagan had a news conference and the banquet room where he was to speak, quickly discovering the essential humorlessness of the Secret Service. Fortunately, the badge (shown here; look at that young guy with hair!) was picked up by an Omaha reporter I knew, so I got in and didn’t blow the assignment.
In 1988, sitting in as a member of The Idaho Statesman’s editorial board, I was across a small table as then-Sen. Al Gore spilled a geyser of Idaho spring water on his suit pants. Gore took it with much better humor than his aides, who had snippily asked in advance of the meeting, “Do you have Evian out there?”
Later that year, I moved from Boise to Des Moines, where I spent the next 18 years as an editor at the Des Moines Register, ultimately overseeing Iowa caucus coverage in 2004.
I loved to tell job candidates during interviews that “the road to the White House goes down that aisle,” pointing to the path through the newsroom to the conference room used for editorial board interviews. The candidates came to us, and still slobber all over the Register or — as Donald Trump did last week — spit venom.
In 2008, I was in Detroit, and Michigan was a battleground state until late summer. I turned a corner coming down a stairway and nearly smacked into John McCain, who, I was pleased to see, is no taller than me. As I once told Dennis Kucinich, it’s really about time America elected a short person to the presidency.
And in 2012, I was in Cincinnati, with my staff covering the frenzied fight for Ohio, always a critical battleground state. No Republican has won the White House without winning Ohio. I also got to watch Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a candid and interesting politician, whom I’ll discuss in a couple of weeks.
I won’t be in the front row here in Glenwood Springs, though we may see our traffic messed up by a motorcade headed upvalley for begging … er, fundraising. But Colorado is a purple state, and, as Secretary of State Wayne Williams told PI Publisher Mike Bennett and me last week, a few votes here could decide a close election.
So it matters to us and it’s fun for me, even on the sidelines.
We are so early in the campaign that polls are largely meaningless, with a few notable exceptions.
One is that Hillary Clinton, in a recent Quinnipiac University Poll (research that has risen to national prominence in recent years), has extremely high negative favorability numbers.
While her husband’s view may be true that 40 percent of the electorate will vote Republican, 40 percent will vote Democratic and the fight is for the 20 percent in the middle, my gut tells me that Clinton’s seemingly inevitable nomination is the best thing the crowded Republican field has going for it.
That and the fact that the Democratic nominee must run with the Obama presidency as a ball and chain. Post-World War II history tells us it’s difficult for a party that has held the White House for two terms to win again. Only H.W. Bush bucked that trend, in a sense winning Reagan’s third term against a weak Democratic nominee — speaking of short guys who look bad in combat helmets.
The huge field (16 declared Republicans and five declared Democrats) also buttresses a belief I developed in Des Moines — let’s call it the Mike Huckabee Theory — that many candidates recognize the extreme improbability of gaining any traction, but see the upside potential of selling books and becoming commentators.
You have to get richer somehow, and campaign stops can feed the ego, at least until they devolve into three people on a subzero morning in a Fort Dodge diner.
Among the most extreme examples of this is bombastic attention seeker Donald Trump. He’s not going to be president, folks, but it doesn’t matter to him. He embodies the axiom that all publicity is good publicity, at least until it involves a booking mug.
I’m with conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer: Trump is a rodeo clown, though I’d say he does less good.
Don’t be fooled.
Randy Essex is editor of the Post Independent.
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