Actual Press Bias? Bob Kerrey

The twitters are all worked up this morning about the announcement that Bob Kerrey will not, after all, be returning to Nebraska to run for the open Senate seat there. Now, Nebraska Democrats are certainly in awful shape no matter what, but the idea that a guy who was last on a ballot there in 1994 and has spend most of the last decade living in New York City would be a formidable candidate just doesn’t wash.

So why all the attention to Kerrey? Well, for one thing, being in New York is a lousy way to run for office in Nebraska — but an excellent way to retain high name recognition among the national press. You’ll recall that Harold Ford’s political ambitions have been taken too seriously by the press, too, as have those of Rudy Giuliani.   I suspect others can think of additional examples. Of course, that attention, even if thoroughly unmerited, can be a resource for a potential candidate, but for Kerrey, that was unlikely to make up for his choice of residence.

On somewhat shakier ground…I’d agree with those who say that the press just likes some politicians better. It doesn’t mean they get positive coverage all the time, as Bob Dole and John McCain can tell you, but it probably does mean that The Great Mentioner is more likely to take notice. Indeed, I’d argue that the politician who has benefited from this effect the most over the last year is Newt Gingrich. Sure, the press will take plenty of shots at him, but he also gets casually referred to as smart, and an ideas generator, and, well, as a serious politician with a plausible shot at a presidential nomination.

Anyway, I’ve always that that Kerrey was popular with reporters, although I’ve never known why he would be. Add to that a decade in New York, and there you go. But as a candidate for the Senate in 2012? I never really saw it, and I’m not at all surprised that he came to the same conclusion.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

Jonathan Bernstein

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.