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Judy Woodruff: Did the Internet Kill the Face-to-Face Campaign?

Mitt Romney greets supporters during a Thursday town hall meeting in Salem, N.H.; photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Mitt Romney greets supporters during a Thursday town hall meeting in Salem, N.H.; photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

After spending six days in Iowa covering the first-in-the-nation presidential Caucuses of the 2012 election, I have many questions, but two sort of “cosmic” ones.

First, have we seen the end of the personal, face-to-face campaigning that candidates began back in 1972 when George McGovern and Edmund Muskie knocked on doors in Iowa? Did the 18 or so Republican primary debates of 2011 — which introduced the candidates to a national audience — reduce the need for Iowa voters to lay their own eyes on these six men and women whom the contest ultimately came down to? A senior adviser to Mitt Romney told me that many voters’ expectations have changed in the four years since the 2008 Caucuses, when candidates worked the state for months, even moved there for a while, as did the family of Democrat Chris Dodd. Another veteran of several Iowa campaigns said voters have become so accustomed, not just to TV ads, but to the Internet, to getting information on their tablet computers and smartphones, not to mention desktop computers, that there is not the pressure any longer to establish old-fashioned personal contact with as many voters as in the past. “By the time we get to the last few days before the Caucuses, they don’t want us knocking on their doors; we can reach them simply by paying hundreds of people (out of state) to phone them; “a voice on the phone is as much contact as they want.” And since it’s the final few days, rather than throughout the year, it’s less expensive for the campaign.

I hope we haven’t seen the end of old-fashioned, face-to-face campaigning because that is what gave Iowa value in the first place: a chance for voters to size up the candidates “retail” level, before they reach the big states, where only “wholesale” TV campaigning is possible.

My second question is whether the American public has enough interest in, and even tolerance for news coverage of Iowa, that I think it once did? The NewsHour has received a large number of comments from viewers this week, saying we’re spending too much of our time covering Iowa. I wonder if it’s the way we are covering the caucus contest (I take much of the responsibility, if our coverage is wanting), or if it is the very fact of it? Reading viewers’ comments leaves me unsure. Several suggest they don’t think Iowa matters in the long scheme of the election. I would argue that it serves a winnowing out process, which has already taken hold, with the departure of Michele Bachmann, and the “thinking about leaving” by the Rick Perry team. I would also argue, as I long have, that this “up close and personal” campaigning is a hoop all candidates should jump through. It’s one test I think an American president should pass: that he or she is given passing marks by a swath of ordinary citizens who’ve taken his or her measure in a small town hall meeting, a coffee shop conversation or a fireside chat. But perhaps that is now a thing of the past?

Indeed, if the candidates are no longer going door to door, or something akin to it, and if personal face-to-face campaigning is an historical relic, maybe Iowa’s value should be reassessed. I’d be interested to know what you think. Have we, with the advent of wall-to-wall cable television, high-speed Internet, Twitter, texting and Facebook, done away with the need for voters to meet presidential candidates in the flesh, in person?

What do you think? Tell us in the comments section or tweet Judy or @newshour.

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