Early Primaries Capture Media Attention

KNOXVILLE – The impact of primaries and caucuses has more to do with timing than with the number of delegates at stake, a University of Tennessee political science professor said Wednesday.

“Iowa and New Hampshire just dominate the early coverage, and it has nothing to do with the number of delegates. The delegate selection process in American presidential elections is all about timing,” said Michael Gant, who is also director of UT-s Social Science Research Institute. “The reality is that candidates have to do well in the early contests or the campaign funding will dry up.”

Gant explained that doing well means at least meeting expectations, and that expectations are largely shaped by the mass media. “Falling short of expectations, especially early, is usually the kiss of death for a nomination campaign,” he said. “Just look at Howard Dean.”

Tennessee-s Democratic primary controls 58 delegates, but doesn-t receive nearly the national media coverage generated by some states with fewer delegates, like South Carolina.

“South Carolina got more media attention because it-s the earliest Southern primary and because there is a South Carolina candidate this year,” Gant said. “There is also the perception that Tennessee is not a Southern state, but a border state.”

By the time Tennesseans vote on February 10, a dozen other states including Arizona, Michigan, Missouri and New Mexico will have completed their primaries. That may be why candidates don-t spend much time or money in Tennessee.

“All of them spend big money in these very early contests, Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina,” Gant said. “Then they have to start thinking in terms of a national campaign, and they have to spread the money around. Kerry is ahead in Tennessee with virtually no spending. That-s what winning early does for you.”