It used to be that the New Hampshire primary kicked off newspaper campaign coverage in general during a presidential election year.
But that was before Donald Trump and the ratings bonanza that primary debates as early as August have become – who knew?
Here at the Arizona Daily Sun, we have tried to hold back the tide as long as possible – the perpetual campaign can be wearing on reporters and readers alike. We used to tell Flagstaff City Council candidates facing a March primary to wait until January before contacting us. They still abide by that rule – except now the primary isn’t until August.
So here we are in February and there are already a half-dozen declared Republican candidates in CD 1 all set for next week’s Lincoln Day dinner in Flagstaff. After Tuesday, they might just outnumber their GOP brethren still standing in the race for president.
Thankfully, most state offices are not up for election in 2016 – voters’ mailboxes can take only so much junk mail. But in addition to four spots on the city council, all five seats on the board of supervisors along with all elected county offices plus some school board seats are in play. LD 6 and CD1 will produce, in aggregate, more than a dozen primary candidates. And there are at least four candidates out there in the race for U.S. Senate. Throw in a school funding referendum on May 17 and the usual half-dozen citizen initiatives in November, and the Daily Sun could practically fill its front page every day just with politics.
The fact that we won’t doesn’t mean readers should wait until the last minute to do their homework. But with a limited newshole and staff, we will be picking our spots. In most cases, for example, we’ll wait until a candidate has turned in sufficient signatures to qualify for the ballot before doing a profile. Of the three staples in a profile – the candidate’s bio, policy positions and campaign tactics – we’d hope to focus mainly on the first two. The qualities of leadership and the ability to weigh competing priorities are more important than horserace polls.
We will, however, publish lists of who is donating money to whom and how much, and we’ll do those ever-popular Fact Checks after debates and the release of particularly contentious campaign ads or fliers. And with the candidates’ cooperation, we’ll distribute questionnaires that we hope they will answer promptly and succinctly – the weekly question to council candidates in 2014 was well-received by readers. If we have time, we just might get them to record their answers on video – and maybe stage a moderated online Q&A, too.
As for endorsements, don’t look for them from the Daily Sun during primaries unless the general election will be uncontested. Our longstanding position is that the editorial board should be recommending the best person for the job, not what the best matchup will be in November. Until then, we and readers alike have a lot of work to do. The midnight Monday ballot count in Dixville Notch, N.H., is only a day away.