The Hippo


Nov 16, 2019








Candidate access
Are some presidential hopefuls more accessible than others?

By Ryan Lessard

While in the past factors like celebrity, security, technology or strategy typically left presidential candidate frontrunners in the stratosphere while the rest pounded the pavement and shook hands, experts say this election cycle may be the exception to the rule.

Candidate status
“With each primary, it had seemed as though [there was] a bit of a dichotomy where top-tier candidates have increasingly become hard to get access to, but candidates who are trying to get traction are still particularly pretty easy to get a hold of,” said Dean Spiliotes, a political analyst and professor at SNHU. 
In other words, access to candidates varies from one to the next. Spiliotes says that’s because media exposure and public events can either help or hurt a candidate. These things can help build up name recognition and grassroots support, but everything the candidate says and does is being heavily scrutinized, which opens them up to risk.
“Typically, candidates who have more to lose tend to be more careful,” Spiliotes said.
Some campaigns do this by limiting public appearances or not taking questions that aren’t screened beforehand.
“That’s been the rap on Hillary Clinton for a long time, that her campaign really likes to control engagement, when voters have access, all that kind of stuff,” Spiliotes said.
Terry Shumaker is a veteran of 10 New Hampshire primaries and is currently working for the Clinton campaign. He says Clinton has made herself particularly accessible for such a high-profile candidate.
“She’s made seven trips to New Hampshire, several of them for two days. She’s done six or seven town halls, taken countless unscreened questions from voters, and she’s one of the best-known women, maybe even best-known people, in the world,” Shumaker said. “She’s coming in New Hampshire and doing it the old-fashioned way.”
Still, Clinton, a frontrunner in the Democratic race, received criticism when she roped off the media during a July 4 parade, something none of the other candidates have done.
“I think that’s more of balancing the access to voters with access to media,” Shumaker said.
Shumaker said that was actually meant to increase access to voters attending the parade, arguing they wouldn’t have been able to see Clinton, who’s 5’7”, behind a national media scrum.
Shumaker said he remembers when George H. W. Bush ran for president when he was a sitting vice president, riding around in a motorcade with security details. And if Vice President Joe Biden enters the race, we’ll likely see more of that.
“If a candidate is extremely well-known and/or has Secret Service protection, obviously access is going to be different than when I first started campaigning with Bill Clinton here in New Hampshire in the fall of 1991, when he was a little-known governor of a small state in the South with 3 percent name recognition,” Shumaker said.
As for the Republicans, Spiliotes says that nearly all of the 18 candidates running are very accessible with multiple town halls and public events. One exception might be billionaire real estate mogul Donald Trump, who headlines big rallies and riffs with members of the audience who offer up playful banter and occasionally ask questions. When he’s off stage, he’s harder to reach.
“One of my concerns about [Trump] is the way he sort of calls in to TV shows. That’s basically a strategy for controlling the engagement with the media,” Spiliotes said. “He’s the first candidate I’ve seen who consistently shows up on the Sunday morning national shows via phone. It’s not something presidential candidates typically do.”
But even with all the big-name candidates in the race, Spiliotes says he thinks access to them is higher this cycle than it has been in recent races.
“I think if you had asked me before this presidential election cycle, I would have pretty confidently told you that the access is definitely down,” Spiliotes said. “What I am seeing this time with the Republicans, because the field is so crowded, it seems almost as though they’ve reverted back a little bit to try to get traction by doing a lot of events.”
The tech factor
Spiliotes says candidates used to be able to speak more freely in the Granite State at voters’ homes or town halls. Nowadays, they have to be more guarded. The reason? Smartphones.
“A lot of it has to do with technology and the sense that candidates, particularly frontrunners, need a little bit more protection from impromptu digital media,” Spiliotes said.
He says a lot of candidates have been undone by cell phone recordings of gaffes. 
“Whatever is local is also instantaneously national and international,” Spiliotes said.
Spiliotes remembers when New Hampshire was a proving ground for candidates to hone their campaigning skills before launching onto the national stage.
“That’s no longer the case. Basically, you come up here and you’re immediately fair game for social media, whether it’s Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat, or any one of those apps that people use now. It’s really easy to unintentionally torpedo your campaign because maybe you’re not ready,” Spiliotes said. “It seems as though candidates hold off coming to the state initially because they want to make sure they have all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed before they actually get here.”
And Shumaker says there’s been an uptick in media outlets following candidates at this early stage of the election.
“Frankly, the number of people covering the New Hampshire primary has increased dramatically with the increase of news outlets, the whole social media phenomenon and online publications, etc.,” Shumaker said.
Technology can also be a barrier to candidate access when relied on too heavily by candidates over retail politics, according to Shumaker, and often to the candidate’s detriment.
“I think any candidate that relies solely on social media is not going to do well in New Hampshire. People are used to being able to meet the candidates, size them up, often shake their hands or have a short conversation with them,” Shumaker said. “Trying to substitute either television ads or, now, social media for that — it’s a mistake.” 

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