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“The Difficult Crossroads of Political and News Events” – Sunday Political Brunch - February 2, 2020

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CHARLESTON, W. Va. – The news business is a fickle mistress. What reporters love at a given moment can be gone in a split second. We’re an industry that could properly be diagnosed with ADHD, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. We’ll focus like a laser beam on one issue, and moments later we are lost in another news event. It’s fleeting – and that can have good and bad consequences. Let’s “brunch” on that this week.

“The Week That Was” – We’re a nation looking back at the first week of the impeachment trial, and we’re looking ahead to the Super Bowl, and the Iowa Caucuses. And then in the middle, there is the sudden, jarring, unexpected crash, and basketball legend Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven others are dead. Many in the public were brokenhearted, and all eyes of the nation were averted. We get information overload from so many directions, and it’s almost too much to bear. There’s no right or wrong here. So much of our attention span is driven by human nature and curiosity, amidst so many other distractions. It’s hard to keep up.

“People Vote with Their Eyeballs” – I’ll be honest, I’ve never been a fan of the Nielsen TV Ratings system. I think it’s horribly imprecise, prone to inaccuracy, and only gives us a quantitative, but not qualitative measure of the audience. In short, it tells us what people watched but does not explain why. I say all this because viewership in the impeachment trial plummeted within days. According to Reuters, 11 million people tuned in on Tuesday, January 21st, but dropped to 8.9 million Wednesday, and then to 7.8 million on Thursday. That’s an overall drop of 29 percent. The public, by and large, is tuning out. On the other hand, Fox News viewership jumped to 4.2 million viewers on Saturday, which was the first day of President Trump’s defense, more than double its audience from the day before.

“Why is That?” – I’m not suggesting that people don’t care about the impeachment, or don’t think it’s important. But we do have a finite amount of time where we vote with our viewing habits. Let’s face it, a 4-hour Super Bowl game and halftime show rivets our attention more so than a seesaw, and often tedious, legal and constitutional debate that happens over the course of two weeks. And we have the anticipation of what’s to come on Monday, February 3rd, when the first voters in the nation get to cast presidential ballots. Look, I’ve worked in radio and TV for 43 years. I get it. We all have interests, distractions, choices, and alternatives. Attention spans can be short and fleeting.

“So, What Is Happening in Iowa?” – Well, it’s down to the wire. We had a debate two weeks ago, and most of the candidates have been crisscrossing the state since then stumping for votes. But, Senators Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Amy Klobuchar and Michael Bennett, have been stuck in Washington, DC at the impeachment trial, freezing them out of the last-minute voter push. The latest Real Clear Politics composite poll has a new leader this week, with Senator Bernie Sanders back on top with 24 percent, with former Vice President Joe Biden at 21 percent, former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg at 16.8 percent, Senator Elizabeth Warren at 14.7 percent and Senator Amy Klobuchar at 9.2 percent. The poll numbers are trending up for Sanders, and Buttigieg, but are going down for Biden, Warren and Klobuchar.

“As Iowa Goes, So NOT Goes New Hampshire” – Look, these two states are fiercely independent, and what happens in one is in no way a predictor of what happens in the other. Just Google Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Mike Huckabee and John McCain. The latest Real Clear Politics composite poll has Sanders 24 percent (down 5 points), Biden 16 percent (down 6 points), Buttigieg at 14.8 percent (up 4.8 percent), Warren 13 percent (down 3 points), and Klobuchar at 7 percent (up 2 points). But maybe momentum can swing between February 3rd in Iowa and February 11 in New Hampshire. We’ll see.

“In Other News: A Story to Keep Your Eyes On” – It has been big news in West Virginia since August. Someone has been killing U.S. military veterans who’ve sought treatment at the VA Hospital in Clarksburg. I’ve been investigating this for six months, and now we've learned a federal grand jury has been empaneled in Clarksburg to hear evidence. Congress and the State Legislature have been pressing for answers. When word came of the grand jury probe, State Senator William Ihlenfeld said of the crimes, “It is death penalty eligible. And so, this person, whoever it might be, if convicted of this crime, could face the death penalty.” Ihlenfeld is the former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of West Virginia which oversees the case.

Who are you supporting for president, and has your allegiance switched? Just click the comment button and let us know why!

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar TV stations serving West Virginia, its five neighboring states and most of the Washington, D.C. media market. He is a National Contributing Political Writer for The White House Patch at www.Patch.com.

© 2020, Mark Curtis Media, LLC

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

“The Political Hodge-Podge of 2020 So Far” – Sunday Political Brunch – January 26, 2020

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CHARLESTON, W. Va. – The year is barely underway, but the political drama is fierce already. Let’s face it, there is a lot at stake right out of the starting gate. The impeachment trial of President Trump is underway, and, so too, is the presidential primary season. It doesn’t necessarily sync up well for some, but may benefit at least one candidate. Let’s “brunch” on that this week.

“In the Cross-Hairs” – Last week I wrote about the “Perfect Storm” between the Iowa Caucuses and impeachment. Well guess what? Suddenly former Vice-President Joe Biden has surged to the lead in the Iowa polls. After leading early on, he faded to fourth, but in the latest Real Clear Politics composite poll on January 13, Biden is back on top. Biden leads with 21 percent of the vote, to 17.3 for Sen. Bernie Sanders, 16.7 percent for Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and former Mayor Pete Buttigieg at 16.3 percent. Remember, at some point in time in the past few months, all four of these folks have been the frontrunner.

“Why the Biden Surge?” – Surge may be an overstatement. Quite honestly given the margin of error, these candidates are likely in a four-way tie. But here are two big factors. Senators Sanders, Warren, and Amy Klobuchar are stuck in Washington for the impeachment trial, so their campaign swings in Iowa are stymied. And second, who is the victim of the impeachment allegations? Well, Joe Biden. So, the factors of absence and sympathy may be giving him a bounce. People watching the impeachment may feel that Biden was the aggrieved party, plus he ultimately might be the most qualified Democrat with a realistic chance of beating Trump. This is fascinating.

“Hello, Neighbor!” – I’ve covered the Iowa Caucuses twice. It’s intimate and personal. Being there means a lot. The fact that Biden and Buttigieg can be there in person at the 11th hour, and Sanders and Warren can’t, is a huge setback for the latter two. Retail politics is gold in Iowa. You are far more likely to cast a ballot for a candidate who stood in your living room, shakes your hand and asks for your vote.

“Who Has Momentum?” – In the past two months, polls in New Hampshire have been just as volatile, with each of these four in the lead at some point. In the next two states of Nevada and South Carolina, Biden has been in the consistent lead. As mentioned, he’s now leading in Iowa, but guess what? He’s also now ahead in New Hampshire, at least in some polls. The latest Real Clear Politics composite poll in the Granite State has it, Sanders 21.6, Biden 17.6 (after he briefly was in the lead last week), Buttigieg 14.8 percent and Warren 14 percent. Like Iowa, these four have all been in the lead at one point over the past few months. It’s volatile!

“Trending?” – The results from the polling in the first four states are unequivocal. Biden is back. He is now in the lead - depending on the poll - in all four of the first states. In the average of all polls, he is only second in New Hampshire. Look, he had been fading, but the fact is that all the allegations aimed at President Trump suggest he was specifically targeting Biden, and that is now apparently helping Biden as the first votes near.

“The Timetable” – Right now, the impeachment trial will carry into the week of February 3, the date of the Iowa Caucuses. It may then extend into the week of February 10, with the New Hampshire Primary on Tuesday February 11. In a very backhanded, and unintended way, the impeachment timing helps Biden and really no one else. But make no mistake, Biden must seize on the momentum over the next month. If he wins or is a close second in all four of the first primaries and caucuses, he has the potential to “run the table” on Super Tuesday, March 3rd. On that day 14 states, plus territories overseas will hold primaries.

“On the Other Hand” – As much as the impeachment and primary timing could galvanize Joe Biden as the nominee, it does not guarantee a win in November. Quite the contrary, the controversy of impeachment is more than likely to galvanize President Trump’s supporters in the Republican Party. In short, it will fire-up his base. Unless we see a major smoking gun, the U.S. Senate will come nowhere near the 67 votes needed to remove Trump from office. Assuming the 47-member Democratic Caucus stands firm, it would still need 20 Republican votes for Trump’s ouster. That’s highly unlikely.

“What History Tells Us?” – As I’ve written before, both the Nixon and Clinton impeachments are not comparable since both men had already been elected to their second terms. But the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson in 1868 has parallels to Trump. Both men were seeking re-election, but Johnson had strong primary challenges within his own party. Trump does not. While Johnson saved himself from removal from office, by one vote, he lost his renomination fight and wasn’t even on the ballot come November. Trump has no serious primary challenge, so this sets him up for a lot of potential “sympathy votes” in November, especially among independents. Trump wanted this. Remember how he taunted Speaker Pelosi and the Democrats to try impeachment, even before the Ukrainian phone call? Don’t underestimate his often successful provocations.

What are your impressions of the Senate impeachment trial so far? Just click the comment button and let us know!

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar media TV stations serving West Virginia, its five surrounding states and most of the Washington, D.C. media market. He is a National Contributing Political Writer for “The White House Patch” at www.Patch.com

© 2020, Mark Curtis Media, LLC

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

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