What winning New Hampshire — and its media frenzy — could mean for Bernie SandersRoundup
tags: 1970s, media, New Hampshire, Bernie Sanders, election 2020
Kathryn Cramer Brownell, an editor at Made by History, is associate professor of history at Purdue University and author of “Showbiz Politics: Hollywood in American Political Life.”
If Iowa tests a candidate’s ability to generate media attention, New Hampshire reveals his or her ability to endure it. Along with canvassing New Hampshire, Democratic candidates also participated in CNN town halls and a televised debate. These media events — and the constant journalistic search to identify “momentum” — elevate the stakes of New Hampshire far beyond the number of delegates at play. Bernie Sanders scored a narrow victory on Tuesday over Pete Buttigieg, and a surprising, surging Amy Klobuchar, demonstrating not just their ability to win over New Hampshire voters, but to withstand the growing scrutiny from their competitors and the 24/7 news media.
But this isn’t just a frivolous media show. It’s a serious test. In fact, the tactics used to survive the spotlight themselves shed tremendous light on how candidates will approach the presidency at a time when hyper-partisanship and misinformation pose serious threats to democratic governance.
Recent American political history is filled with stories of candidates who have fizzled out under the partisan and media spotlight that has transformed electoral politics over the past 50 years. In 1972, the Democratic Party introduced reforms that shifted the nominating process from behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing at the convention to open primary elections. That year, South Dakota Sen. George McGovern emerged out of New Hampshire as a surprise contender, propelling his candidacy forward with a combination of innovative media games and grass-roots politics.
The “new politics” of the 1970s reshaped not just political strategy, but also journalistic practices. This more media-driven and transparent primary process made campaign reporters significant conduits for relating information to voters nationwide, and they took their elevated position seriously. Having witnessed the lies of Vietnam and Watergate, a new generation of investigative reporters was determined to uncover the truth behind political spin and expose any hint of scandal by elected officials — even those tied to politicians’ personal lives.
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