Primary Pain

NH’s political gold has lost its glow as local media struggle for survival
Politics Oct 23 Final Copy85

It’s one of those things you could only know with hindsight, but roughly 15 years ago was a golden age for New Hampshire politics. Now there is a new regime. 

Everyone nationally was brought in on the New Hampshire primary’s unique importance. Local media outlets, while struggling, still played a major role. They had journalists who not only covered candidates but provided accountability, and in that
way drove the political conversation in the state. Further, these outlets, particularly radio and television, provided a platform for political advertising targeted efficiently at the state’s voters.

If that didn’t work in reaching voters there was Facebook, which had buzz and engagement from new users. Back then, social media was less of a toxic place and more welcoming.

Today, the New Hampshire primary is struggling. Most local media outlets, if they still exist, are a shell of themselves and largely irrelevant, at least in terms of day-to-day political life.

For candidates from president to state representatives, the shift in this new era has meant a shift of a campaign’s essential function.

Yes, these campaigns, as always, need to raise money, create and promote a message, get volunteers and eventually get out the vote. But now they are forced to essentially create their own media ecosystem to do all of the above.

And that has meant that next to the candidate, the most important thing a campaign can have is a solid email list.

The email list, hardly a new form of technology, is back as one of the most important things in politics, particularly in New Hampshire.

The email list, if well maintained and growing, can be the place where a campaign can directly get a message out to supporters, raise money and get out the vote. What it doesn’t do so well as a traditional replacement to local media is helping recruit new supporters and help undercut an opponent.

This has particularly been the case in mayoral elections around the state this year. If one wanted to know what, if anything, happened in the race for mayor of their city, an answer might only be found on a campaign email list, with the latest news about an endorsement, poll or event.

Traditional businesses long figured this out about emails. One look into your personal email will no doubt find endless email marketing campaigns from your favorite shoe company or home improvement contractors or airlines. And to get your email, these same companies will offer a one-time discount.

Something similar happens in local politics. Most times, a person cannot even get inside an event with a candidate without first registering online or in person by providing key data to the campaign like an email address and a cellphone number.

In the latest primary cycle, it’s not just the campaign, but even Super PACs have paid staffers standing outside of the events with either clipboards or iPads seeking really one thing: an email address.

The email address has become gold for politics, not only for what it does for campaigns in the short term but also the long term. Long after the campaign is over, these email addresses can be sold or rented to a future campaign.

This change has been welcome to campaigns that have a closed loop on their message. When Barack Obama first ran for president, they bragged about the fact that their email list would reach more people directly than viewers of the evening national news.

Make no mistake: This development is bad for democracy generally. If a candidate had a history of being corrupt, increasingly the only people who would know are people on an opposing email list.

Categories: Politics