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New Media Offer New Ways To Dodge Those Darn Reporters' Pesky Questions

McMahon, Donovan Limit Contact With Old-Fashioned Media During 2012 Campaigns

By Rick Green

August 09, 2012

We are approaching a moment when candidates running for Congress don't have to bother with old-fashioned media.

Not so long ago, it might have been unthinkable for a non-incumbent to largely kiss off all but carefully scripted exchanges with local political reporters and editorial boards.

No longer.

This year, we have two candidates, Democrat Chris Donovan and Republican Linda McMahon, who have greatly restricted access to their campaigns. Thanks to the explosion in new media, there are many new options - carefully targeted emails, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are a few that are rapidly changing the way candidates reach potential voters.

Their reasons are very different. McMahon has a well-funded and highly organized media strategy that doesn't need, or want, journalists to get her message out. Donovan, embroiled in an ugly fundraising scandal, can't afford to let reporters get in the way of his message.

McMahon, running for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate, has avoided editorial board interviews this primary season. Donovan, the House speaker running for the Democratic nomination in the 5th Congressional District, has generally dodged contact with reporters except for a couple of highly charged press conferences.

At least one - and quite possibly both will likely win in the primary vote on Tuesday. There's a lesson there: New media gives you new power.

"Younger people are getting their information from so many sources,'' said WFSB-TV anchor Dennis House, who will have McMahon on his "Face the State" program Sunday morning. "How many people care that McMahon didn't do an editorial board?''

The Norwich Bulletin's Ray Hackett does. He fought publicly with the McMahon campaign when she declined to meet with his editorial board earlier this summer. Hackett, the paper's opinion page editor, told me that average voters "are stuck now with one less resource to make an informed decision. They are stuck with only the mailings and the commercials."

For the McMahon campaign in particular, that's exactly the point. At a time when campaigns can figure out how you are likely to vote by studying clicks on the Internet (Play FarmVille? You're probably a Romney voter), McMahon's advisers grasp the new reality that there may be far more effective ways to reach voters than through journalists and their annoying questions.

The campaign has created "Women for Linda," "Veterans for Linda" and even "Job Creators for Linda." She has a Twitter account with more than 30,000 followers; her likely rival in November, Democrat Chris Murphy, has less than 5,000. These people can be reached and mobilized with the click of a mouse. The campaign's frequent YouTube videos quickly deliver a message that ricochets around the web. Daily emails and tweets slam Murphy without ever having to actually do so publicly.

"We pay very close attention to social media,'' said McMahon spokesman Tim Murtaugh. "It's 2012. Things don't operate the way they did even five years ago. You ignore social media at your own peril it allows us to maintain frequent and instant contact with our volunteer base.

"You can reach broad audiences or audiences that have a particular appeal. With Twitter it's a way to disseminate information and a way for people to feel like more people are more involved with the campaign,'' said Murtaugh. "Linda's time was better spent out on the trail actually talking to voters.''

Murtaugh said McMahon's abstinence from editorial boards is only temporary. He said she will resume meeting with editorial boards for the general election, provided she wins Tuesday.

Donovan spokesman Gabe Rosenberg declined to comment when I asked why his candidate wasn't more accessible.

"Chris's support is solid. It's people who have fought with him throughout his 20-year career,'' Rosenberg said. "It's working families in the district. It's people worried about health care and who are worried about having a good job."

Despite the control it gives them McMahon leaves her Murphy-bashing to TV commercials, tweets from aides, and emails from her campaign manager the danger is that a risky narrative emerges. For example, Ned Lamont's delay in debating Dannel Malloy in 2010 led to the collapse of his campaign for governor.

Veteran journalists such as Hackett and House see a trend: Candidates with deep pockets and an understanding of the fast-evolving new media can bypass the sort of dialogue and back-and-forth that has long defined political campaigns.

"I don't think they necessarily need it,'' said House. "That's sad."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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