To go or not to go, that is the question.
I am talking, of course, about newspaper editorial boards and the ever-increasing frequency with which candidates skip the chance to sit down with the opinion-makers in their respective city or state. Just this week state Sen. Joni Ernst, The Republican nominee for Senate in Iowa, announced she wouldn't be sitting down with the Des Moines Regster editorial board because she believed that she wouldn't get a fair shake from the organization even if she did. (As Phil Rucker noted over at Post Politics, the Register editorial board had criticized Ernst for her comments about poverty; her stance on "nullification"; and her support as a state senator for a measure that would add a "personhood" amendment to the Iowa Constitution.)
Not surprisingly, the Register wasn't happy; publisher Rick Green pronounced himself "disappointed" in her decision.
But, did Ernst make the right decision -- in terms of winning the race? Now that is an intriguing question.
Meeting with editorial boards and, in so doing, seeking their endorsement, is an age-old tradition -- as baked into the political cake as raising money, kissing babies and not answering reporters' questions. But, there are two big reasons why that once iron-clad part of a campaign is becoming less necessary in the eyes of some candidates.
1. The splintering of the media has made any one news organization less powerful. Candidates are increasingly able to talk to blogs, cable channels and news sites that are ideologically in their corner. As a result, they no longer feel as though they need to go through the mainstream media "filter" because they can communicate their message directly to their voters through these other mediums. (The master of this end-running is Barack Obama.) That splintering of the media has also made endorsements by news organization less and less meaningful in the vast majority of races. The Des Moines Register, for example, endorsed Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic presidential process. She finished third in Iowa.
(That is not to say, however, endorsements are meaningless in every situation. An endorsement from the Washington Post in the 2009 Virginia Democratic gubernatorial primary quite clearly boosted state Sen. Creigh Deeds to the nomination.)
2. Technological advancements have raised the stakes. Look no further than Alison Lundergan Grimes' refusal to answer a question about whether she voted for Barack Obama, a back and forth that came during her interview with the Louisville Courier Journal editorial board. While the comment was never going to be a winner for her campaign, the Courier Journal videotaped the encounter and had it online for the national media to see within hours. The awkwardness of Grimes' dodge captured on tape made it a much more compelling -- and damaging -- story.
Given those two factors, it's easy to see why someone like Ernst took a pass. Sure, Democrats bashed her for avoiding the tough questions and the Register put out a statement that made clear they weren't happy with her decision. But, how many actual votes will any of that move? And how many votes will the Register's now-likely endorsement of Bruce Braley, Ernst's opponent, change?
As a strong believer in the media's role in educating the public about the candidates -- who they are and what they really think -- this is a depressing conclusion. No partisan media outlet will vet a candidate in the way a non-partisan one does. But, judging from the conclusions above, it seems likely that there will be lots more people who follow Ernst's blueprint in future campaigns. Smart for them. Bad for democracy.