Readers know that Matt Bai's brand of political reporting rubs me the wrong way -- for his much-vaunted obsession with "ideas," Bai never bothers to learn much about them. He's failed again, this time in an article about how all politics are national because Christine O'Donnell's Senate campaign is more focused on federal issues and conservative-base fundraising than the nitty-gritty of local campaigning. "What’s different now," he concludes, "is that the vehicle doesn’t seem to need an insurgent party behind her, or even an actual campaign, to upend the old order."
Maybe that's true in a primary, where ideological candidates usually hold an advantage. Bai references the four-year-old story of Ned Lamont, suggesting this isn't the newest phenomenon. But amazingly, he doesn't bother to cite any opinion polling from Delaware, where O'Donnell is a good 16 points behind Democratic nominee Chris Coons. In fact, a quick assessment of O'Donnell's campaign might lead one to conclude the exact opposite of Bai: Courting national, ideological coverage may actually backfire for candidates in statewide races. Look at Kentucky's Rand Paul for another example: His campaign has curtained their national media outreach after it backfired into negative coverage, and Paul's Democratic opponent Jack Conway is now only two points back in the Republican-leaning state.
While there are plenty of incentives for columnists to take the cutesy contrarian route -- "House Speaker Tip O'Neill's ... adage may now be as much a part of history as he is" -- they usually bother to build a better case. That Christine O'Donnell is running an unorthodox campaign, and it appears to be failing, doesn't suggest that the rules of politics have changed.
-- Tim Fernholz