Grossman’s free media miscalculation

Steve Grossman had a plan. The plan was to spend the pre-convention period building the best campaign infrastructure and volunteer army. The post-convention summer period was supposed to be when the political media’s horse race coverage of the treasurer’s post-convention bump and the backs and forths between the Coakley and Grossman camps would provide the one-on-one media narrative necessary to move the poll numbers and soften the ground for Grossman’s late summer “air campaign.” By primary Election Day, with Grossman’s viability having been established by free and paid media exposure, the superiority of the treasurer’s ground operation would get him over the finish line ahead of the AG. Unfortunately for Grossman, the media has not fulfilled its part of the plan.

Since his convention victory, Grossman has had a great deal of difficulty exploiting horse race coverage of the Democratic primary race because the Boston media has largely decided that there is no Democratic horse race to cover. The media pollsters have de-emphasized the Democratic fight and shifted the focus to the general election against Charlie Baker. Reports on and analysis of the Globe’s hotly anticipated weekly polls have basically ignored the battle between Coakley and Grossman, emphasizing instead how each of the three Democrats still in the race would fare against Baker. Issues such as the casino referendum and the Supreme Court’s buffer zone and Hobby Hobby rulings, and to some extend Don Berwick’s insurgent effort, have also sucked up some of the media oxygen this summer. This shift to general election and high profile issue coverage has deprived Grossman of the kind of free media coverage that would have established him as Coakley’s primary competition for the nomination.

The media used its own early polling to decide that a shift to the general election was warranted and since summer polls are largely driven by the candidates’ media visibility, the polls have increasingly reflected that editorial decision. How many folks reading this post realize that Coakley’s pre-convention 40-plus point lead over Grossman had been cut in half by late June? Did the media report this “bump?” Grossman was forced to release an internal poll in early July showing that he had closed the 40-plus point gap to 23 points even though the Boston Globe’s June 26th poll, released barely a week earlier, had registered the very same 23 point spread. The Globe’s coverage of that poll included no discussion of the smaller Coakley lead over Grossman. Media attention had already shifted to the general election. In fact, several newspaper stories about Grossman’s internal poll said that his numbers weren’t backed up by “independent polling,” even though they were. The Boston Globe’s coverage of elections drives the rest of the state’s media coverage and since the Globe had ignored the change in the Democratic contest, so did everybody else. The Grossman campaign couldn’t even get anybody in the media to focus on the fact that he and Baker were in a dead heat in the June 26th Globe poll.

In its latest poll, the Boston Globe finds Coakley and Baker in a virtual dead heat, with Grossman now losing to Baker by 8 points. Has Baker “gained ground” because of something he did or said, or because the AG has been on the hot seat lately? Probably not. Has Grossman lost grown because of his or the AGs performance on the campaign trail? Probably not. The simple fact is that Coakley and Baker are getting all the horse race coverage. The virtual tie may very well reflect the fact that respondents are still operating on name recognition, rather than more substantive issues reflected in the campaigns’ latest statements or positions. Since the present media narrative is focused on Coakley versus Baker, it should not be at all surprising that an electorate not yet focused on the fall elections would see a close race between the two candidates getting all the media attention.

The bottom line for Steve Grossman is that getting cut out of the post-convention horse race media coverage has put a serious crimp in an otherwise solid game plan. He will now have to go to his paid media campaign earlier and will have to spend quite a bit more to insure that his “progressive job creator” campaign isn’t neutralized by Coakley’s (and Berwick’s) own paid media.

Thanks to 20/20 hindsight, we can now say with relative confidence that Grossman should have put a week or so of heavy paid ads up right after the convention in order to insure both an actual bump in the polls (which he did get) and some media attention to his battle with the AG. Just one hard hitting paid ad could have made it more difficult for the political media to ignore him in late June, early July. On the bright side for Grossman, his decision to forego public financing now looks quite sage.

About Jerold Duquette

Jerold Duquette is an associate professor of political science at Central Connecticut State University. He is the author of Regulating the National Pastime: Baseball and Antitrust and has published articles and book chapters on campaign finance reform, political parties, Massachusetts politics and political culture, public opinion, and political socialization. Professor Duquette lives in Longmeadow, MA with his wife and four children.
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