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“A Political ‘Triple Play’ Like No Other” -- Sunday Political Brunch February 9, 2020

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CHARLESTON, W. Va. – Has this nation ever had a political week like this? In the course of three days we’ve had a State of the Union Address, a presidential impeachment verdict, and an Iowa Caucus vote go off the rails. It’s my 43rd year covering politics, and – for better, or for worse - this is why I love it so much. We have a buffet of politics to “brunch” on this week.

“The Raucous Iowa Caucus” – This decade’s winner of the “Florida Hanging Chad Award” goes to the Iowa Democratic Caucus. Like a kid on Christmas Eve, I waited up all night Monday for Santa to come down my chimney with the vote totals, but Santa never showed up. The precinct captains were supposed to send caucus tallies via a cell phone app to the party office, but the thing went haywire. I’m writing as of Thursday night and we’re now up to 99 percent of the results being reported.

“So, Who Wins & Loses” – With 99 percent of the vote counted former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg is in the lead with 26.2 percent, to Senator Bernie Sanders (I) Vermont on his heals at 26.1 percent. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D) Massachusetts, is at 18 percent, and former Vice President Joe Biden has 15.8 percent. Coming in fifth, Senator Amy Klobuchar (D) Minnesota, had a respectable 12.3 percent. In terms of convention delegates, Buttigieg and Sanders each won 11, with 5 for Warren. No one else took delegates.

“Why the Delay Matters” – A well-known and successful political operative told me on background this week, “It’s a nightmare for a campaign. No one leaves Iowa with any victory momentum. No one gets to give a victory speech in Des Moines and carries that momentum onto New Hampshire.” It’s very anti-climactic. In short, it was a disaster for the party and the individual campaigns. It may, in a round-about way, help Trump.

“The Nation’s Capital Becomes Junior High” – After Monday’s debacle in Iowa, we moved to the annual State of the Union Address on Capitol Hill. What a sight to behold! President Trump seemingly ignores the outstretched handshake from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at the start, and then Speaker Pelosi tears up her copy of the president’s speech on live TV at the end. While I love politics, this is why so many Americans outside of the beltway detest it. They find it juvenile and petty, and wonder why significant legislation is the exception, not the rule. And people are bewildered when elections only have a 40 percent turnout, if that? I’m one of seven kids and know the dynamics well. I fully expect the “He/she started it,” blame game to begin soon.

“Channeling Ronald Reagan” – The ugliness aside, there were some other fascinating moments from the State of the Union. President Ronald Reagan began the trend of inviting and introducing heroic people, often sitting with the first lady. It was Reagan’s theatrical genius (and his genuine love for authentic American heroes), that every president since has copied. Who doesn’t love a 103-year-old Tuskegee Airman? In marketing, they call it “product placement,” and whether you like Trump or not, he did it exceedingly well.

“The Strategy” – This always puts the minority or opposing party in a bad light. Reagan knew this better than anyone. He knows his own party will cheer, applaud and stand up for every accomplishment he claims. But the opposing party will sit on their hands, stone-faced, with no applause. The problem for the opposition becomes when the president says, “I love puppies! Puppies are the best!” Of course, they don’t applaud or stand, because they disagree with his overarching policies and behaviors, but to a lot of viewers it looks like, “Wow, Democrats don’t like puppies!” Yes, it’s grossly unfair and hugely manipulative, but there were times Tuesday night where Trump made Democrats look disloyal, and unsupportive. Reagan did this very well, but so did Bill Clinton. Trump just stole a page from their political playbooks.

“SOTU 2020 as the Campaign Kick-off” – The State of the Union is a lot of things. First, and foremost, it’s an American “cheerleading” tradition. The tag line is, “We’re the BEST” when the president traditionally says, “The state of our union is strong!” But the SOTU is also a policy speech where you might spell out your legislative roadmap and initiatives for the year ahead (Trump was a little thin on details here). But the third leg of the “political barstool,” is that it’s also a political speech. If you read between the lines and the bragging of accomplishments on Tuesday night, President Trump was saying, “I’ve done a good job, re-elect me!” It was very much the campaign kick-off address for 2020.

“Impeachment Redux” – By Wednesday we had the third significant event in our “political hattrick” for the week. To no one’s surprise the president was acquitted in his impeachment trial and will not be removed from office. It was a straight party line vote with one exception. Senator Mitt Romney (R) Utah, voted to remove the president on Article I of impeachment, but not on Article II. He was the only person in either caucus to deviate – albeit only once – from the party line. The bottom line, Republicans are quick to proclaim Trump’s acquittal, while Democrats take the tact that “not guilty” does not equate to a “innocent.” This will be a central campaign issue in 2020.

What are your thoughts? Does the impeachment result, the Iowa vote count, or the State of the Union change your vote? Just click comment button!

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media 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 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

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