I’ve been exchanging emails today with John Dickerson of Slate/CBS. As many of you know, he and I take different approaches to building a story about a campaign. Tonight he replied directly to my essay. I reproduce his comment below. As usual for PEC commenters, I know you’ll keep it civil. -SW
Hello everyone. I’m John Dickerson. Sorry to be late in joining the party. I was flying back from Ohio and have the chance to sit still for a second. I see that instead of characterizing the battle over momentum, I’m now a player in it.
The piece that is the focus of Dr. Wang’s analysis had pretty modest aims (just 6 paragraphs). I was trying to write a short scene piece about a day with Romney. That’s why I used a dateline, which I don’t normally do, and which we wouldn’t put on an analysis piece. Also I used a scene in the lead and kicker which wouldn’t be expected in a piece looking at the polls. So I was trying to explain what I saw that was new, which was that a candidate who was once a vessel for anti-Obama sentiment is receiving reactions that are different than before.
To the extent that the rallies are more intense and pro-Romney (rather than merely anti-Obama) I thought that was notable. This kind of scene reporting is really subjective and gives you a flavor for the race more than the direction in which it is heading. That’s why I tried three different times in the piece to say that everything that I was recording was possibly meaningless to the final outcome. I mentioned the example of the McCain Appleton, Wisconsin event in 2008. He lost the state by 14 points and lost all three counties Appleton touches.
The use of momentum in the headline was probably misleading in the context of the current debate and the goal of the piece. To the extent I was thinking about momentum at all, I was thinking of it in the way it works in clashing billiard balls. Two balls can have momentum at the same time, one more than another. So Romney can have Republicans coming on board and more intense than ever and since that’s an improvement relative to his previous position, he has momentum. Obama is banking lots of early votes, and they appear to be low propensity voters, so he’s got momentum too. It also seems possible to have a race in which no one seems to have momentum but one will be a clear winner. It’s also possible to have a period where Romney has momentum– say after the first debate– and Obama still had lots of advantages that would allow him to win which would mean no momentum but a clear lead in the race.
Thanks for taking an interest in my work. If you want, you can read it here.
Sometimes the headline and subhead can squash the piece a bit so it might be worth reading it all to see if there are other ways in which I erred. Have a good weekend everybody.
John Dickerson, Slate Politics