Beto-mentum?

Good stuff from Nate Silver. As I tell class after class, nowhere is the media more important in politics than presidential primaries.  That’s because “winning” is all about exceeding the media’s expectations.  And, the media largely sets those expectations.  Silver:

At 5:03 a.m. on Monday, Politico published a story on former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s “rocky rollout” to his presidential campaign, which launched last week.1

Roughly two hours later, O’Rourke’s campaign announced that it had raised $6.1 million in the first 24 hours after launch — more than any other Democratic candidate including Sen. Bernie Sanders, who raised $5.9 million.

Presumably, this was intentional on the O’Rourke campaign’s behalf. Having some good news in its pocket, it waited to announce its fundraising haul until a busier news cycle (Monday morning instead of Friday afternoon) and until the media narrative surrounding his launch had begun to overextend itself. O’Rourke’s $6.1 million in fundraising is important unto itself — more money allows a campaign to hire more staff, open more field offices, run more ads and compete in more states — but it sounded like an even bigger deal to journalists who had begun to hear whispers of fundraising totals that would fall well below that.

Indeed, I too had thought it was probably a bad sign for O’Rourke that he had not disclosed his fundraising on Friday when the 24-hour period ended, although I said that it would be a “good troll” if he had intentionally held off on announcing just to screw with media expectations..

It could be more than a good troll, in fact, if it suggests that O’Rourke and his staff are learning to manage media expectations, something that had been a problem for the proto-campaign in its pre-launch phase. Expectations management is a key survival skill for a modern presidential candidate — one that could come in handy later on when the media is trying to interpret, for example, whether a second-place finish in the Iowa caucuses was a good finish for O’Rourke or a bad one.

For better or worse, the primaries are partly an expectations game, meaning that it’s not just how well you do in an absolute sense that matters, but how well you do relative to how well the media expects you to do.

Exactly.  I usually spend a good 10 minutes giving all sorts of historical examples of candidates who well-exceeded (HRC in NH in 2008) or fell below (John Glenn in Iowa in 1984) their expectations and how that shaped the race.  And, this article went straight to my Media & Public Opinion class where we’ll discuss it later today.

As for Beto:

O’Rourke is going to get a lot of media coverage — and he’s one of those candidates who, like past failed candidates such as then-Gov. Rick Perry in 2012 and Sen. Marco Rubio in 2016, but also like successful ones such as then-Sen. Barack Obama in 2008 and Trump in 2016 — simultaneously seems to be overrated and underrated by the press and never quite at equilibrium. I’ve learned the hard way that it’s particularly important to stay at arm’s length when evaluating candidates like these, to wait for polling data or fundraising data or other hard evidence on how well they’re doing, and to avoid reading too much into the media narratives surrounding them because they’re prone to shift on a whim. O’Rourke’s fundraising numbers — as the most tangible sign to date of how his campaign is performing — were a fairly big deal, but so was his campaign’s apparent awareness about the importance of managing expectations.

So, who knows how Beto will do.  But, arguably, even more important than the fundraising is the fact that he (seemingly) knows how to play the expectations game well.

And, as long as we are on the topic of Nate Silver and Beto:

That surely helps. Meanwhile, Vox had a piece yesterday pointing out that Beto was for marijuana legalization long before it was cool with Democrats.

And, on health care, Beto has embraced the center-left “Medicare for America” plan which, for the record, I’m a huge fan of.  And, I think if Obama was running in 2020, this is the plan he would go for.

So, of course we’ll see how this all plays out in time, but Beto does seem to be doing a solid job with the Obama approach both strategy and policy-wise at this point.

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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