Iowa’s first in the nation caucuses have resulted in a type of local media bias that favors Republicans. This became increasingly evident during the 2012 presidential election campaign, when President Obama was without serious opposition among Democrats, and a field of Republican hopefuls found ten candidates garnering votes at the caucuses with the three top vote-getters, Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney and Ron Paul, each receiving less than 25 percent. Corporate media reporting is about selling advertising and newspapers, so I don’t blame the reporters. Except that Republicans have increasingly begun to frame the media discussion in Iowa because media questions turn noticeably to Republican issues.
The framing around Republican issues was evident in the Des Moines Register endorsement of State Senator Joni Ernst for U.S. Senate in a primary field of five candidates.
“Ernst’s conservative credentials are impeccable,” wrote the editorial board. This is a Republican primary, but by choosing Obama 52 percent to Romney’s 46 percent in 2012, Iowans demonstrated that conservative credentials matter less than the Register’s framing suggests. The rejection of Romney in a state that picked George W. Bush in 2004 is meaningful. Romney received 20,000 less votes than Bush did, indicating the value of conservative credentials is in decline among voters in Iowa. For the 822,544 Obama voters in 2012, conservative credentials were even less relevant. But the Register continues to repeat the phrase.
The Register goes on to cite other issues in a Republican framework, including an absolutist position on Second Amendment rights, conceding that Medicare and Medicaid must be cut to address the federal budget deficit, and application of a Christian litmus test to federal judge nominees. All of these posit a Republican position and compare Ernst to it. Citing Iowa’s open primary process as a reason for weighing in on a Republican primary, what the Register has done is use the endorsement as a platform for confirming the conservative perspective of the editorial board.
The race to fill U.S. Senator Tom Harkin’s open seat looks to be a repeat of the 2012 election, and already we are seeing Republican media framing in the run up to the June 3 primary. Congressman Bruce Braley is running unopposed among Democrats. He has the endorsement of the current senator and is focusing on fund raising and grass roots organizing. If he has been working smart, he should have a substantial advantage over the eventual Republican nominee. He should also be heartened by the framing the Register and others have given the public dialogue about the 2014 midterms.
What Democrats learned in 2008 and 2012 is that media matters less and grassroots organizing will win elections. Let’s hope the Republicans continue to drink the Kool-Aid of a biased Iowa media, while Braley is busy quietly closing the deal.