mardi 20 mai 2008

Barack Obama, The New Face Of American Politics CHAPTER FIVE: Overcoming a Funny Last Name: Media and the Vote

Barack Obama, with his good looks, charm, and oratory skills, wowed both the voters and the media. Obama strategically conserved his resources for a media blitz in the last few weeks of the campaign. He was able to garner the public’s attention in the beginning of 2004 and continued right up to the primary election. David Axelrod, chief strategist for the campaign, observed, ‘‘I think there was a tsunami out there for Barack Obama across the state and in the city of Chicago that completely overwhelmed any organization. I think people came out on their own because they wanted to vote for this attractive candidate they liked. And there was no organization that was going to stop them from doing it.’’ With the major impact the mass media has in ‘‘making or breaking’’ a candidate’s image in the eyes of millions of voters, it is important to consider the role that mass media industries play in political campaigns. This chapter explores how the print and broadcast media covered the U.S. Senate race and how the candidates used the media to reach the voters.

Television is certainly the most prevalent form of media today, and most Americans get their news from it. For political campaigns, television advertising is the most costly aspect of running for office. The Alliance for Better Campaigns estimated political advertisement spending in Illinois during 2004 at just $42 million. This was low because the presidential nomination had been determined before Illinois’ primary, President Bush did not compete for the state, recognizing that it would go to Kerry, and the U.S. Senate race was not competitive. In fact, most political television advertisements in Illinois were placed in February and March 2004, before the primary. By comparison, Florida was first in the country with $236 million spent. Even smaller states like New Jersey ($88 million), Delaware ($65 million), and Wisconsin ($54 million) had more spending than Illinois. Nationally, a record $1.6 billion was spent by parties, candidates, and independent groups on television advertising in 2004, more than double the amount spent in 2000. In 2002, candidates spent $24.3 million on Chicago television advertising, and special interest groups spent almost another $20 million. In 2004, by contrast, candidates spent only $11.3 million (through August) and interest groups just under $400,000, just for the primary race.
Thom Serafin, a Chicago political and public relations consultant, said that Jack Ryan and Barack Obama were not the only winners in the primary elections. ‘‘The winners are the TV stations,’’ he suggested.
While much less money was spent by candidates on television than in previous years, close to $44 million poured into the Chicago and down-state media markets, and ‘‘Illinois residents were subjected to an incessant barrage of ads that made household names out of unknowns.’’ For political neophytes in Illinois, expensive television advertisements are the only way to overcome entrenched field organizations. Serafin said, ‘‘Infrastructure takes a long time to build. Television gets you a short-term name identification, then you hope it filters into the neighbor-hoods. The old-timers used to build from the bottom up. Now, with the new guys, it’s from the top down.’’ David Morrison, deputy director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, a nonpartisan group that advocates for public funding of campaigns, for vouchers for television spots, and for campaign contribution limits, said, ‘‘We’ve seen plenty of millionaires run and lose. Our concern isn’t about raising the ceiling, it’s raising the floor. We’ve seen a number of folks raise around five million in the primary alone. If that’s the new floor, that’s going to discourage some credible candidates.’’ Trevor Jenson explained in an article for Ad week, ‘‘In a state that includes the expensive Chicago market, the race offered a two-tiered message: candidates do need significant money just to compete, but in the end, even the heaviest TV blitz does not always pay off at the polls.’’ Kevin Lampe, a principal with Chicago public relations and political consultants Kurth/Lampe, concluded, ‘‘Self-funded candidates win or lose with the same frequency as people that raise money from the general population.’’
The primary candidates were not that different on policy positions, so a premium was put on old-fashioned politics, reaching the voters, and getting supporters out to vote. A month before the primary, 55 percent of likely Democratic voters said they had paid little or no attention to the race, so the final weeks of the campaign were key. Obama strategically conserved his resources for that time. Blair Hull, however, did not have financial constraints and flooded the airwaves as soon as he announced his candidacy.
Hull set a new record for Illinois by being the first candidate to run television advertisements for his campaign, in June 2003, ten months before the primary. Millionaire Peter Fitzgerald, who had won the seat in 1998 but was retiring, had previously held the record when he started advertising six months before the election. Millionaire candidates have begun to advertise far earlier than non-wealthy candidates simply because they could afford to incur the costs. For example, Jon Corzine, who spent $60 million in his New Jersey senate race, started running television advertisements three months before the primary in 2000, a very early start at that time. It is apparent that the first candidate to begin the television bombardment acts as a catalyst for other candidates to do the same, if they can afford it. Steve Brown, a spokes-man and longtime political operative for Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan said, ‘‘You hate to have one person [running commercials] while you’re on the sidelines.’’
In addition, such a media blitz may scare off the competition, or at least warn others that this is going to be an expensive campaign. ‘‘Clearly there is some muscle-flexing going on here,’’ said Rick Reed, a Virginia-based advertising consultant who had worked on past Illinois campaigns. Reed was an advisor to Fitzgerald’s successful campaign in 1998, which ran advertisements early in the year to tell voters about the relatively unknown candidate. This downstate media advance may have influenced John Simmons, then a thirty-five-year-old millionaire trial lawyer from suburban St. Louis, who had considered entering the race but then backed down.
Hull began his media assault downstate, running television commercials emphasizing his liberal agenda and the need to reform the nation’s health-care system. Hull’s advertisements also highlighted his working- class background and his self-made, rags-to-riches story, including being the son of Depression-era parents, a union member, a food stamp recipient, a math teacher, and the father of four children. Hull stated, ‘‘In my case, I want to be able to connect to all the voters in the state. It takes some time to get to know the people.’’ Released as part of a multicity tour that included Springfield, the Quad Cities, Rockford, and Decatur, Hull’s initial media campaign cost a total of $750,000, with $222,000 spent in the St. Louis market alone.
For months, Hull’s television commercials were ubiquitous, as he emphasized his economic and health-care plans. Some of Hull’s advertisements emphasized the creation of jobs, support for tax credits for working-class families, and investment in rural Illinois. Others blamed President Bush for the loss of jobs and for the healthcare crisis. Hull on three occasions bussed senior citizens to Windsor, Ontario, to buy prescription drugs at the cheaper Canadian prices. Even though candidates had been doing this since 2000, it still garnered Hull additional television and news coverage, and he developed an advertisement around the trips. Hull’s ‘‘media barrage’’ ultimately helped build his political name. Anecdotal evidence that his strategy had worked was provided by a woman in a McDonald’s restaurant in Rockford, Illinois. ‘‘I know you—‘I’m Blair Hull and I approved this ad,’ ’’ she recited the last line of a commercial to Hull himself.
At the end of February 2004, just weeks before the election, half the Democrats polled had seen or heard Hull’s advertising in the last three months, while only 26 percent had seen Hynes’s advertisements, the next closest. Polling also confirmed that Hull’s commercials were reaching voters. His name recognition soared, with six of ten Democratic voters saying they had heard of him. In late fall 2003, Obama was recognized by 32 percent of those surveyed, well behind Pappas, a Cook County board member or county treasurer since 1990, with 55 percent, or State Comptroller Dan Hynes with 54 percent. Chicago lawyer Gery Chico had a 38 percent recognition rate. Table 5-1, Democratic Primary Poll Standings, shows the trends of support for the candidates in the months before the primary election.
Shortly after Hull went on the air with commercials, other candidates, such as Hynes, Chico, and Republican Jack Ryan, followed suit in fall 2003. They all hoped to reach voters before the channels were cluttered with advertisements from other campaigns. In late September
2003, Gery Chico, who had been the first Democrat to declare his candidacy for the U.S. Senate, became the first candidate to advertise in the Chicago television market. Chico, the former president of the
Chicago School Board, ran advertisements emphasizing his work in education and his Chicago upbringing. ‘‘We believe being out there on television will help both fundraising and network building,’’ Chico said. However, this did not seem to be true in Chico’s case.
The other candidates were focusing on introducing themselves to downstate voters, thinking that the Chicago electorate would be split into many factions based around remnants of the Democratic political machine, existing political bases, or ethnic rivalries. Jack Ryan commented, ‘‘One of the maxims in politics is to define yourself before others define you. We’re trying to define me as a person. Once we establish that foundation, we can talk with credibility about how to solve the problems that face us now.’’
Hull and Chico recognized that there were some disadvantages to overexposure. Hull even asked the question himself, around the time he started spending money on television advertisements: ‘‘Don’t you think people kind of, you know, get sick of you after a while?’’ Gery Chico had a stronger opinion. ‘‘I don’t want to aggravate people. I think there is a point at which you over-saturate and people say, ‘Oh no, not this guy again.’’’
While Hull’s campaign imploded after revelations of spousal, drug, and alcohol problems, Hynes’s strategy was cautious and deliberative.
One commentator suggested that his theme was ‘‘bland is beautiful,’’ and that Hynes was anticipating field support from labor and the traditional Chicago power base. Chicago Tribune columnist Rick Pearson labeled the Democratic primary ‘‘lackluster’’ and commented, ‘‘Things were so bad that a recent press release from the campaign of deadpan- demeanor Dan Hynes, the state comptroller, declared that he had passion. Noting on his TV ads that his wife is a doctor may reassure voters who fear he often doesn’t show signs of a pulse.’’
Maria Pappas tried to distinguish herself from the male competition, running one advertisement that featured her against a background of suit-wearing mannequins. Rick Pearson observed that the spot was not effective downstate where she was not well known and that voters ‘‘conceivably could have thought she was promoting blazers and ties for Men’s Wearhouse.’’
Obama’s earliest advertisements outlined his impressive resume in his attempt to distinguish himself from the competition. In early March, Obama began airing testimonial television advertisements with Congresswoman Janice Schakowsky, a liberal Chicago Democrat. Unfortunately, Ms. Schakowsky’s husband, longtime social activist Robert Creamer, was indicted on federal charges of check kiting and tax evasion on the same day the commercials started running. Sheila Simon, the late U.S. Senator Paul Simon’s daughter, appeared in one downstate commercial. Senator Simon was so well respected that this support gave him more credibility and helped him win voters downstate.
Despite the barrage of television commercials, many thought that free-spending Hull did not set himself apart from other, more modest contenders. Moreover, in the Democratic primary debate televised in early March 2004, Hull explained that his former wife’s protection order was part of a legal tactic to extract a $3.4 million divorce settlement. He stated, ‘‘There are two kinds of divorce, one involves children and one involves money—this is the latter.’’ He abandoned the above-the-fray style of a front-runner and accused Obama and Hynes of taking large contributions from drug and insurance companies, which they denied.
The controversy that surrounded Hull and the airing of it on television for all the news programs to cover only lessened his competitive edge, and it helped increase the popularity of the other candidates. Jim Cauley, Obama’s campaign manager, recognized the advantages of Obama’s television exposure when he remarked, ‘‘At the end of the day, if we can get Barack Obama in front of all the people of this state, they’ll make a decision in his favor.’’ Ultimately, Obama’s media strategy worked exceedingly well. Campaign advisor David Axelrod noted, ‘‘It was always our plan to finish hard, when people were paying attention. One of the great disciplines of the campaign was not to spend money early and waste those resources.’’
After the primary, the general election race had hardly begun before Republican candidate Jack Ryan became embroiled in his own divorce record scandal. Ryan blamed the media for his campaign’s collapse. By focusing on his divorce records, the media made it impossible to have ‘‘a rigorous debate on the issues.’’ Ryan stated, ‘‘The media has gotten out of control. The fact that the Chicago Tribune sues for access to sealed custody documents and then takes unto itself the right to publish details of a custody dispute over the objections of two parents who agree that the re-airing of their arguments will hurt their ability to coparent their child and will hurt their child is truly outrageous.’’
With Jack Ryan stepping down, Obama modified his media strategy for the general election. He was originally going to start television advertisements in July, but instead waited until mid-August. At that time, around of advertisements in downstate media markets began to tout his sponsorship of legislation in Springfield that would provide tax credits for low-wage workers, prohibit hospitals from charging the uninsured, and force insurance companies to provide coverage for mental illnesses and mammograms. The campaign also ran advertisements on NBC affiliates during the Olympics. These spots promoted Obama’s ability to work with both Democrats and Republicans in the state senate on tax relief and health-care issues, but made no mention of his new Republican opponent. Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs said, ‘‘We view this as a chance to introduce, to reintroduce Barack to places of the state that didn’t necessarily get to see a lot of advertising during the primary.’’ Julian Green, Obama’s press secretary in the general election, said Keyes was getting media attention because ‘‘he said something outrageous everyday, and the press would call us for reaction. For us, it was about staying on the message.’’ Obama would not have been able to get his own message across if he kept responding to Keyes’ public ranting. Obama then relied on four commercials that ran in rotation until election day. He launched a $2 million television advertising campaign on October 19, 2004, in the Chicago area, the first commercials in this media market since the primary. The thirty-second spot did not ask for voters’ support and did not indicate what office he was seeking. Rather, it showed part of Obama’s keynote address at the Democratic National Convention. The convention delegates were shown waving blue and white ‘‘Obama’’ signs and Obama was heard speaking one of the key lines from the speech: ‘‘There is not a liberal America, and a conservative America, there is the United States of America.’’ In the final seconds, if viewers watched closely, they could see ‘‘Democrat for U.S. Senate’’ in the logo shown in the corner of the screen. David Axelrod, the campaign’s media advisor, insisted that Obama was not being over- confident despite a 40 percent lead over Keyes. ‘‘If we were taking this for granted, you could run a rationale for not running any ad. But the act of running this ad says we are not taking any vote for granted.’’
Keyes ran only two television commercials. The first hit the airwaves the last week of October 2004. Bill Pascoe, Keyes’s campaign manager, explained, ‘‘We’re waiting until we can see the whites of their eyes.’’
The silent spot featured a display of quotes from Ronald Reagan, Rush Limbaugh, Congressman Henry Hyde, former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka, and retiring senator Peter Fitzgerald, all praising Keyes. The advertisement was part of a $500,000 purchase of airtime across the state. The quote from Reagan read, ‘‘I’ve never known a more stout-hearted defender of a strong America,’’ and then ‘‘Who are they talking about?
Alan Keyes. U.S. Senate,’’ flashed on the screen. The only spoken words were Keyes’s, saying that he approved the advertisement. A Keyes aide explained, ‘‘We wanted to remind people in this state there are a lot of people who they respect who think an awful lot of Alan Keyes. If you like Ronald Reagan, you ought to like Alan Keyes. Ronald Reagan sure did.’’
Keyes explained his advertising strategy: ‘‘As I put it to my staff people, it’s like leaves on a tree in autumn. You get to a certain point where the leaves are ready to fall. Our commercials are the breeze, and the leaves will fall.’’
Despite Keyes’s outlandish comments about Obama, his first television spot was low-key and positive. In fact, the Obama campaign had been prepared for Keyes to go negative. Robert Gibbs, Obama’s spokes-put it on TV for a short time in Illinois. And I think voters will reject that as they have rejected Keyes’ candidacy overall.’’ The Keyes aide stated, ‘‘Before you can go negative, you have to establish somebody’s positives. Launching an attack in a campaign … is like firing a Howitzer.
A Howitzer is a big gun. It has lots of recoil. If you don’t have that gun grounded firmly, the blowback hurts you as much as the other guy.’’
However, Keyes’s outlandish campaign was used against other Republicans downstate as Democratic candidates tied Keyes to their races. In the Twentieth District House seat in Chicago, two incumbents faced each other because of redistricting. A mailer from Democratic Representative Ralph Capparelli featured photos of his opponent Mike McAuliffe and Keyes with the statement, ‘‘Two Republicans, from the same party, running on the same ticket, with the same views.’’ In Peoria, a Democratic Party mailer showed Keyes with Republican challenger Aaron Schock, a twenty-three-year-old school board president, reminding voters that Keyes ‘‘was young once too’’ and pointing out that Keyes and Schock both opposed abortion for victims of rape and incest.
Keyes’s second advertisement hit the airwaves on Election Day. In this piece, Obama was rebuked for taking campaign money from trial lawyers and for voting to raise taxes. Keyes stated he would cap lawyers’ fees, fight frivolous lawsuits, and ‘‘ease the tax burden on our working families.’’

Interest groups also took to the airwaves in 2004 to express their views on the issues and to mobilize supporters. Two of these 527 groups shaped the presidential race: Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and These 527 groups, named after the provision of the tax code that defines them, can raise unlimited amounts of money. They are not permitted to directly advocate for the election or the defeat of any candidate and, therefore, are not regulated by the Federal Election Commission.
The organizations are not allowed to coordinate with a candidate’s campaign, and the line between issue advocacy and campaigning for a candidate is often controversial, resulting in litigation.
The 2004 Illinois senate race was no exception. Empower Illinois Media Fund, a 527 committee run by an aide to Jack Ryan, sponsored an advertisement criticizing Obama’s legislative record that began airing on the day of the first debate between Obama and Keyes. Jeff Davis of Aurora raised $100,000 from wealthy conservative Jack Roeser of Barrington, Illinois, to run the independent spot in the Springfield, Champaign, and Decatur markets. Davis produced the piece because he felt Obama had not been made to defend his liberal record before the voters. The thirty-second spot was brief and low-budget and showed Obama’s face. There was no voice-over, only text which read, ‘‘Obama opposes tougher sentences for gangs who kill innocent children.…
Obama wants schools to teach sex to kindergartners.… Obama supports aborting children even when they are born alive.’’ Empower Illinois ran $15,800 worth of anti-Obama advertisements on two Chicago television stations.
Robert Gibbs, Obama’s spokesperson, responded that the advertisement by a ‘‘shadowy front group’’ distorted the state senator’s record.
Mr. Gibbs argued that the group was working with the Keyes campaign, and he stated, ‘‘It’s like every typical attack ad and it’s like every typical Keyes attack—it just doesn’t tell you the whole story.’’ The claims in the advertisement were shown to be inaccurate and misleading.
Later, adding more fuel to the fire, the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a left-leaning watchdog group, filed a com- plaint with the Federal Election Commission arguing that Empower Illinois was a political committee. Speaking in relation to the complaint, CREW’s executive director, Melanie Sloan, stated,
Empower Illinois, which was founded only this past August by the former treasurer for the Jack Ryan campaign committee, has made no secret that its goal is to defeat Barack Obama. It was created as a vehicle through which Jack Roeser could make an end run around campaign contribution limits. CREW called on the FEC to immediately investigate and stop Keyes, Roeser, and Empower Illinois from attempting to illegally influence the Illinois Senate campaign.
Obama called attack advertisements ‘‘corrosive’’ and said that the ‘‘utter loss of civility’’ prevented problems from being constructively addressed. He went on to say, ‘‘You can lie about somebody. You can mischaracterize your position. You can go back on your word. You can spend all your time tearing somebody down instead of doing something positive. There is no other realm in our lives where that would be acceptable. It inhibits people from trying to introduce any complexity into the conversation, because as soon as they say something complex it will end up in a television ad or in a mail piece that makes them look like they’re crazy.’’

Radio, in the traditional, Internet, or satellite format, has transformed national and state politics with its transmittal of public debate to an increasingly growing audience. About 99 percent of homes in the United States have radios, 95 percent of America’s cars have radios, and more than 3,000 stations are web casting on the Internet. XM Satellite
Radio Holdings Inc. and Sirius Satellite Radio, now a merged satellite radio giant, has fourteen million subscribers. Because of the extensive audience, the radio is a media outlet that can have some influence in political campaigns, as well as much power in reaching potential voters.
In addition, radio’s utility applies in particular to state and local elections because radio stations are locally owned and directed enterprises and about 75 percent of advertising on the radio is local. Advertising on radio is also significantly less expensive than on television. Conservative talk radio made the medium important again with its emphasis on news headlines, political coverage, and aim at reaching a broad audience during commuting hours in the morning and afternoon. Several people point radio’s revival to Rush Limbaugh’s presence in keeping the medium in the lead of successful political consultants. Radio has been a ‘‘secret weapon’’ in political campaigns. Al Salvi, the Illinois Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in 1996, was noted for his use of radio in the senate campaign. Salvi’s radio campaign reached over nine million voters in three weeks at a price of less than $40,000. Radio is used in political campaigns because of its ability to reach the people with quick turnaround time. Candidates have taken advantage of radio by targeting more reliable voters by running ads in popular news programs.
Radio advertising is significantly less expensive than television, and it allows the message to be focused to a more well-defined audience.
Blair Hull was the first in the Illinois Senate campaign to run radio advertising, and $30,000 of his money was put into a week-long radio campaign just two weeks after he signed Representative Bobby Rush as his campaign chairman. Although Obama had unsuccessfully challenged Rush for Congress in 2000, Rush claimed that his support for Hull was not a payback of any kind. One of the first clashes among the Democrats running for U.S. Senate was between Obama and Hull when Obama took ‘‘a swing’’ at millionaire investor Hull over these radio spots. Hull was trying to cut in on Obama’s African American base by running commercials on stations popular with black listeners. The commercials featured Bobby Rush, who referred to Hull as ‘‘an independent voice who will make sure that we get our fair share.’’ In the sixty-second commercial, Rush also said, ‘‘Blair Hull, like me, comes from a working-class family and served in the Army. Blair Hull, like me, is committed to affordable health care, improving schools so our children can get a fair shake, and creating jobs to bring stability back into our communities.’’
In response, Obama, one of two African Americans in the race, characterized Hull as a newcomer who was trying to buy support while he himself had a record of fighting for voters of all races. ‘‘The nice thing about actually having a track record of service in the community is that you don’t have to pay for all of it,’’ Obama said. ‘‘Whether the message is coming from Bobby Rush or anybody else, one would be hard-pressed to believe that an individual who has never worked on issues important to the African American community during the first sixty years of his life suddenly discovered these issues.’’ In reaction to Obama’s statement, Hull called it ‘‘the proverbial glove slap in the face.’’ Hull’s spokes- woman Susan Lagana defined Hull’s commitment to black voters saying, ‘‘Blair Hull has committed early to reaching out to the African American community, and I guess it has touched a nerve. He is not going to concede any vote and not take anyone for granted.’’ Starting in October
2003, Obama launched advertisements on black radio stations.
Overall, political advertising on the radio, as in other media outlets, was less than it might have been because of the 2004 presidential race. Candidates George W. Bush and John Kerry both recognized that the state would vote Democratic in the presidential race, and, consequently, neither candidate put any time or money into media campaigns in Illinois. The first Obama–Keyes debate was broadcast on radio, and Obama lacked the spark he had displayed at the Democratic National Convention. Obama was expecting Keyes to act outrageous, but instead he presented himself as a serious candidate. This evidently threw Obama off, and he stuttered and stumbled throughout the hour. Keyes had experience in the professional field of radio with his own radio show in the 1990s, which had made him an icon among social conservatives, including abortion opponents, during his 1996 and 2000 presidential campaigns. Obama, in response to some of Keyes’s claims, said, ‘‘Sometimes the statements made in this campaign are so outlandish, you’ve got to laugh. When I heard Jesus Christ wouldn’t vote for me, I wanted to ask my opponent who his pollster was. I wanted to connect with him, because there are so many more important questions. Am I going up or going down? There’s the eternal life thing. People recognize this is really helpful to us solving our problems.’’

Although the number of newspapers produced has been decreasing, newspapers still undoubtedly reach a successful and educated reader-ship. A nationwide, bipartisan poll by the Newspaper Association of America in August 2004 showed that seven of ten registered voters regularly read a newspaper. In the Information Age, national and local newspapers now have the capacity to reach even more readers through the promotion of on-line editions. Political campaigns are still using newspapers to reach voters, and candidate coverage in newspapers and newspaper endorsements prove to be quite useful in garnering support.
On the whole, newspapers provide more detailed information than television, and the endorsements of editorial boards carry some weight in most communities. Candidates certainly publicize the number of newspapers that support them.
Considering the money, scandal, and background of the candidates, it is no surprise that the U.S. Senate race in 2004 captured the attention of a variety of newspapers. Newspapers act as society’s watchdogs, investigating all aspects of a candidate. Along with the exciting head- lines of any election, there is a strong focus on every aspect of candidates’ lives—professional, political, and personal—that is brought out under the pressure of high competition.
Illinois’ two largest newspapers, the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times, endorsed Obama in the primary and the general election. At least thirty-nine newspapers supported Obama in the primary election alone. Hynes was endorsed by Bloomington’s Pantagraph and Joliet’s Herald-News. Gery Chico was supported by Aurora’s Beacon News, crediting as the basis of their endorsement Chico’s ‘‘passion and problem-solving skills’’ and suggesting that, as Chico rebuilt a disastrous Chicago public school system in 1995, he would apply a similar plan to education, health care, and economic reforms. The Beacon News also added a warning to its readers: do not be fooled by ‘‘electronic media hype’’: if a candidate ‘‘of substance’’ was what one desired, look to Gery Chico.
In the months leading up to the general election, on top of newspaper endorsements, the national media provided extra support for Obama through their glowing pieces written about him after his 2004 Democratic National Convention speech. Traditionally, the position of keynote speaker is reserved for eminent figures or rising superstars. The success of his speech began to pave Obama’s way in national politics.
‘‘One of the things I’m planning to do is to give voice to all the families in Illinois I’m meeting who are struggling to make ends meet,’’ he said of his new visibility. According to the Kerry campaign, Obama was an asset, especially in mitigating disapproval of Kerry’s campaign officials’ neglect of African American voters. After meeting Obama for the first time and listening to him speak at a fundraiser in Chicago in April
2004, Kerry began to consider Obama for the keynote speech at the convention. An aide to Kerry said that he was taken aback by Obama’s ‘‘passion, eloquence, and charisma.’’
The Springfield State Journal-Register was the last large newspaper to endorse Obama in the general election, conferring an additional advantage in Obama’s race to gain voters’ support. The newspaper wrote, ‘‘If Illinois voters were being asked to elect an ayatollah November 2, Alan Keyes would be the obvious choice. But on Tuesday, we will elect a U.S. Senator and for that office we support Barack Obama.’’
Despite the fact that all of the foremost Illinois newspapers endorsed Obama, however, most newspapers across the state expressed regret that it was not a competitive race. In addition, the more conservative editorial boards offered only lukewarm endorsements, indicating that they did not agree with Obama on several issues but praising him for his commitment to improve education and health care. For example, the Freeport Journal-Standard wrote, ‘‘Though his potent brand of liberalism is extreme, we believe that given the choice between Barack
Obama and Alan Keyes, Obama is the best man to represent our state.’’ Obama, unlike Keyes, had a comprehensive knowledge of Illinois. Obama remarked, ‘‘It feels good that newspapers across the state feel like I’m going to represent their communities well.’’
Republican candidate Alan Keyes stated that he thought media cover-age, including the newspapers, had been unfair. ‘‘I have not been impressed with the standard of journalism in the State of Illinois. I think it’s a disgrace to the people of this state that you all don’t do your jobs very well. You’ve got work to do because you’re not up to snuff.’’
Obama’s media endorsements were exceptionally transparent, and his opponent felt inclined to comment: ‘‘I think I’ve made it pretty clear the media in this state have sort of had their preferred candidate all along. The corrupt elites have been promoting him with an extremism that is wrong,’’ Keyes said. Keyes indicated that the people who sup- ported him did not rely on ‘‘biased newspapers’’ for information. Keyes also added that the campaign was a ‘‘fight between good and evil,’’ and that Obama’s positions on moral issues were ‘‘wicked and wrong.’’ In response to Keyes’s attack, Obama said that Keyes’s argument about a media conspiracy ‘‘defies logic,’’ pointing out that many state newspapers historically support Republicans and that many endorsed George W. Bush. Throughout the history of Illinois political campaigns, local newspapers did by and large endorse Republican candidates, especially in the twentieth century.

The newest electronic information source and media industry is the Internet, and it is growing so fast we can hardly keep up. The number of consumers on-line increased 40 percent between 2000 and 2005, and the money spent on Internet advertising increased 25 percent—from $8 billion in 2000 to $10 billion in 2005. With the constant growth of profit-centered Internet businesses, the amount of political news available is immense: outlines of news stories, on-line editions of newspapers and magazines, political rumors, and an overload of gossip and commentary through the blogosphere. Furthermore, the Internet plays an important role in building grass-roots support, raising money, and putting together campaign infrastructure. The Internet can therefore be very useful to political campaigns both for advertising purposes and for building support.
Consequently, the Internet had become a powerful political tool by 2004. The Pew Internet and American Life Project reported that in the 2004 campaign, sixty-three million people used the Internet to obtain political information, forty-three million people discussed politics through e-mail, and thirteen million made on-line political contributions or volunteered to work with a campaign. In total, seventy-five million people participated in at least one of these activities. The Internet has shifted the focus from checkbook activism to credit card participation through websites. With the click of a button, supporters can send tens, hundreds, and thousands of dollars. Not everyone can attend a $250-a-plate dinner, but thousands of people can send a hundred dollars electronically. The accessibility and convenience of the World Wide Web for making campaign donations helped Barack Obama, who had to rely more on donations and fundraising opportunities on the Internet, as opposed to candidates like Blair Hull who spent money out-of-pocket.
The ability of the Internet to transform politics is staggering. Consider this point: ‘‘The on-line political news consumer population grew dramatically from previous election years (up from 18% of the U.S. population in 2000 to 29% in 2004), and there was an increase of more than 50% between 2000 and 2004 in the numbers of registered voters who cited the Internet as one of their primary sources of news about the presidential campaign.’’ In the 2004 Illinois Senate campaign, it is quite obvious that the Internet was yet another media outlet that was broadly utilized.
While the first major campaigns used candidate websites in 1996, ‘‘the 2004 elections saw the most significant employment of the Internet in campaigns to date in terms of both depth and scope.’’
In June 2003, Obama’s detailed website focused on his extensive legislative experience and political history. Obama’s official campaign website also included an array of photographs showing the smiling, young-looking Ivy League graduate in a number of settings with his family and political supporters. The site,, rolled over into the site for and then to his presidential campaign website, Keeping these URLs current and rolling one into the other is another sign of the Obama campaign’s technological savvy and helped boost his name recognition.
Gery Chico also needed to increase his name recognition. On top of every page of his website was a large red, white, and blue banner with his name and ‘‘U.S. Senate.’’ Blair Hull’s site spelled out his name in bright, bold letters across every page. There was also a section in Spanish, clearly aimed at Illinois’ large Hispanic community. Also jumping on the Internet campaign bandwagon were Illinois comptroller Dan Hynes and Cook County treasurer Maria Pappas. Hynes used his website to remind voters that he held the statewide elected position of comptroller and had helped erase the state’s large budget deficit. Pappas’ official website provided only basic biographical information and a description of her official duties.
Moreover, Alan Keyes, the Republican contender, relied heavily on Internet campaigning. On his official campaign website, ‘‘Alan Keyes for Senate 2004,’’ Keyes featured a section titled ‘‘About Alan,’’ which highlighted his opinions on issues such as abortion and affirmative action, and utilized streaming media and pictures. Other links on the website included ‘‘Help Alan,’’ ‘‘Calendar,’’ and ‘‘Media.’’ Under the media section, he included recent articles, press releases, archives, a media kit, press photos, and radio, television, and Internet advertisements.
The World Wide Web was and is used for informing voters, mobilizing supporters, raising money, and communicating messages. With the Internet, candidates could promote their issues and define their images.
During the senate race Obama said, ‘‘I’m not interested in becoming a symbol. I’m interested in becoming a good senator for Illinois voters. To the extent that the attention gives me more of a bully pulpit to talk about issues that I care about, or to the extent that my status … as potentially the only African American U.S. senator serves to inspire other young people to get involved in public service or gives people who’ve historically felt locked out a greater sense of hope, then I’m happy to serve that role.’’
In the 2004 Illinois Senate race, the media focused on who was spending the most money and who was more popular and concentrated less on the issues. The amount of money spent captured the attention of the public more than a comparison of the candidates’ views, which were not that different in the primary races. Three candidates thought the media had inappropriately invaded their personal lives. The role of the media as an overseer of the public interest was once again pitted against a candidate’s privacy. The moral character of those seeking public office has been considered a relevant campaign issue since Bill Clinton ran for the presidency in 1992. Exposing a candidate’s past mistakes, errors of judgment, character defects, and hypocritical positions is considered newsworthy, often times at the expense of social concerns and their remedies.
Barack Obama had some youthful indiscretions, but otherwise he has been a role model as a citizen and public servant. Obama benefited in the primary from the media’s probing of other candidates, and he became the media’s darling during the general election. Obama’s face was on the cover of Time and Newsweek before he was even sworn into office. He was mentioned on television sit-coms like Will and Grace.
Grace, one of the main characters, dreamed she was in the shower with Obama, who was ‘‘ba-rocking my world.’’ Very few other candidates have gained this type of national popularity as quickly as he has done.
Obama also used the media with political savvy, buying television advertisement close to the election to shore up his support after stumping through all parts of the state. The campaign’s use of the Internet was advanced for its time and was a precursor for the expanded role media and technology would play in a presidential race.

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