THE TRUTH ABOUT NEW HAMPSHIRE: The Media Isn’t Telling You The Whole Story

new hampshire primary
JD’s pub at the Radisson in Manchester. The media’s ground zero in NH.

MANCHESTER, NH — If you are someone who pays attention to political coverage you’d be forgiven for assuming the nation is waiting with bated breath for the latest results from the continuing epic battle of the GOP primary.Certainly the media has been doing its best to create a race for the White House that justifies the enormous money and time the cable news channels — who have spent the last three years redirecting the entirety of their coverage to the minutiae of the political cycle — are spending on their election coverage.

Last night I heard second-hand that one network flack had been complaining about the lack of media reporters around to cover all the stuff her network was doing on the primary.

And to be sure, the immense dislike for Mitt Romney emanating from the bowels of the GOP combined with the obfuscation of the political candidate as a cable news host and vice versa (cf. Sarah Palin, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich) has certainly added some reliable grist to the drama mill.

Here on the ground in New Hampshire, however, the excitement is less palpable. 

Actually it’s barely palpable.

Yesterday afternoon the Radisson hotel in Manchester, NH, ground zero for the media every four years, felt a bit like a library; it was eerily empty and quiet. 

To wit: ‘Surging’ candidate Jon Huntsman and his wife Mary Kaye came through the doors just ahead of me, and were greeted by a handful of supporters and one or two iPhones before beating a slow path up the stairs. 

Certainly it’s not fair to expect the excitement and cacophony that accompanied the 2008 race — among other things that was a two party primary.  Even so, a native New Hampshirite remarked to me last night that the 2004 Democratic primary had far more pop than this one.  And though he welcomed the biennial surge of politicos, he conceded that the lackluster feel this year could be attributed to both Romney and the disaffectation of the country towards Washington. 

The point was driven home by a Ron Paul supporter I also spoke to who said even he was resigned to a Romney win this go around; a Romney win he suspected would be followed by an Obama win come November.  When I asked him what his long game was if not the upcoming election he said he had his eyes on Rand Paul for 2016.

Speaking of quiet, even the media here in New Hampshire feels less enthused than four years ago.  Last time around the Radisson was packed to the brim for days leading up to the primary with every big TV and newspaper name in the business.  There was a certain authentic electricity to the place every night.

Last night, while the usual suspects like Chuck Todd, Jake Tapper, Chris Matthews and Lawrence O’Donnell (spotted in the lobby having a late-night, seemingly civil, discussion with a long-haired Andrew Breitbart) were floating around, the bigwigs were few and far between. 

Unless, of course, you count Scott Pelley as a bigwig (CBS News is broadcasting from the Radisson driveway) or Michael Steele, who hovered near the entranceway shaking hands for some time. 

All of which added to the general feeling of routine rather than energetic anticipation.  Which is fine.  Good even.  The problem is it’s not being reflected in the excited coverage pouring out of the networks.

Perhaps political coverage and the excitement that it generates has been so disseminated online there is no real need anymore to converge on the (very cold) state where the voting is taking place.  That said, from what I’ve been told, Iowa, previously a opener for New Hampshire, may have been the fun, energetic place to be this year (media-wise). 

This year New Hampshire, normally the media go-to thanks to its accessibility to NYC, feels like a hangover.  A somewhat wearisome, strained attempt to wring a few last stories out of the campaign before the media is forced to concede that Mitt Romney is the inevitable nominee and brace itself for a nine-month slog through Romney-bot-land. 

Which is not a bad thing.  But it would be nice if the media coverage tried a little harder to reflect that reality.