Time to get serious
In less than a month Republicans will start making a commitment. No more flirting. Gaze at the ring being offered, look deeply into the eyes of a candidate and say, "You're the one."
Many suitors have come knocking, flowers in hand, plans for the future, plans for the economy, plans for smaller government. But on Jan. 3 voters in Iowa will give a nod and cast the first ballot in the nation to choose a presidential candidate. Mitt Romney has been the consistent date, while Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain and now Newt Gingrich have teased voters who want that perfect mate.
Republican Party members, meeting in 1,784 precincts in 99 counties in the Hawkeye State, will have to end their dalliances and commit. For the rest the nation, it's early in the romance. In 2008, Republicans in Iowa accepted Mike Huckabee. John McCain, the eventual nominee, finished fourth.
The next dance: Jan. 10, the New Hampshire primary.
Speaking of dalliances
How many women does it take to torpedo a candidate's dream of settling in the Oval Office? For Herman Cain, it's four or five; I've lost count. Last week, the former pizza executive admitted having a relationship with a woman for 13 years and helping pay her monthly bills. Others just claimed harassment.
In 1987, it took only one woman to sink the aspirations of Gary Hart, the presumptive Democratic candidate. The former U.S. senator from Colorado challenged news reporters to follow him in the wake of rumors of extramarital affairs. Two reporters from the Miami Herald took him up on the dare. In the end, his candidacy sank quickly after he was photographed with Donna Rice aboard a luxury yacht named Monkey Business.
Speaking of monkeying around
While the media is focused on the Hermanator's new revelations about women, the "other woman" thing is old news for Newt Gingrich. Voters know the baggage he's carrying into primaries and caucuses, but he has emerged as the new favored paramour.
His latest poll numbers show the country strongly embracing the former House speaker, with 39 percent of 1,000 nationwide voters surveyed Wednesday saying he's their man. Romney polled second at 17 percent. The margin of error was plus or minus three percentage points.
As of Friday, the average polling data compiled by Real Clear Politics, www.realclearpolitics.com, shows Gingrich leading Romney by 26.6 percent to 20.4 percent.
During the 1992 presidential campaign I was part of a Poynter project to change the way newspapers cover political campaigns. At the Charlotte Observer we were going to report from an issue-oriented perspective. We asked voters what issues they were concerned about. Then we asked candidates questions the voters wanted answered. There would be no horse-race coverage, no coverage of the sideshows or photo ops, like Michael Dukakis riding in a tank to show that a Democrat could lead us into war.
Political polls were boiled down to their essence who conducted the poll, candidates ranked by percentage points, when the poll was taken, how many people participated and the margin of error. We ran no stories about who was leading that day in one poll or another. Our coverage was smart and serious and issue-driven. Then, one night early in the campaign the story broke of Gennifer Flowers and Bill Clinton. So, some sideshows you just can't avoid.
But about those polls
Too much media coverage is focused on political polls it's easy, who's hot, who's not, it's sexy. Sure, it's fun to watch which horse is leading the field, which one is coming up fast on the rail and which one is fading down the stretch. But when you look at the polls, pay close attention to one thing the margin of error. If a poll has a margin of error greater than plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, the pollsters didn't interview enough people to make it very accurate.
Measure the margin of error against the front-runner and the candidate in second place. The CNN/ORC poll from Nov. 18-20 shows Gingrich leading Romney 24 to 20 percent, with Cain in third place at 17. But, if you apply the margin of error five percentage points guess what? Cain could be ahead with 22 percent to Gingrich's 20 percent. Or Romney could be the leader with 25 percent to Gingrich's 19 percent. So what does that poll really mean? Not much.
Be leery of polls and focus on where candidates stand on the issues that are important to you.
Gary Reed, Forum editor