political coverage

How to bring the presidential election home to your readers

Tip O’Neill famously observed that all politics is local.

A good community newspaper believes that and acts upon it. Some races are obviously local – the ballot choices for mayor, city council, county commission and state representative are populated by people you know, people who shop alongside you, people you see at Rotary and church.

The local issues are what people talk about at the coffee shop even when an election isn’t going on.

Presidential politics are different.  Your mayor doesn’t have to make a decision on how many Syrian refugees to allow in the country or whether or not to bomb ISIS strongholds located near population centers.  So sometimes community newspapers leave presidential politics to the networks and the metro newspapers.

Too bad.

Admit it – not even the local issues have generated as much conversation as the Trump-Clinton race this year. And if all politics is local, even the national issues have their roots in your community.  And the race depends on how the parties can turn out the vote on the local level.

So we need to be covering Trump-Clinton – in our town and county.  How do you cover a race where neither candidate comes within hundreds of miles of your coverage area? It’s actually easier than you may think.

  • ●Cover the people in your town who are supporting the major candidates. Call party leaders and elected officeholders from both parties. Find out what party leadership thinks of both Trump and Clinton and how they assess the depth of local support. These are the most unpopular candidates in many years – how has that affected support, volunteering, giving?
  • ●Check on campaign contributions from your city and county. Use sites like and to find donations by ZIP code.
  • ●Localize the issues. Pick something like taxation or immigration and ask people what they think of the candidates’ positions. Look at how those positions might affect your readers and your community.
  • ●Follow the campaign locally. Where do people go for yard signs and buttons? What campaign efforts are being made on behalf of the candidates? What are people saying on social media? You can also use to find local political groups other than the two major parties.
  • ●Do a little simple research on presidential voting trends in your county. Tell your readers which party carried the county, as far back as you want to go. Talk to local election experts on what factors have accounted for any voting swings. Also, what are the voter registration trends in your county?
  • ●Much has been made of the black vote, the Hispanic vote, the youth vote, the women’s vote. Talk to local leaders about which direction those are likely to go in your community.
  • ●Talk with local religious leaders about what is probably the dilemma they are experiencing between voting for a candidate with obvious moral lapses or one who has probably lied to Congress.
  • ●Check out the get-out-the-vote efforts in your community. What are the plans to remind people to vote and get them to the polls?
  • ●And what else can you do to cover the national campaign from your own doorstep? TCCJ blogger Al Cross gives you lots of ideas here.

Finally, if you’d like to see an example of localizing a presidential campaign story, check out this story from Kathy Cruz of the Hood County News in Granbury.  Kathy got local reaction to last week’s story about the latest Donald Trump revelations:

The dilemma created by a tape in which Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks in lewd terms about women hasn’t just further split the Republican Party – it has unleashed a vitriolic debate about sexual assault and the treatment of women.

That split has touched Hood County, where every county elected official is Republican, as are most voters.

Of the officials reached by the Hood County News on Monday, all – with the exception of County Attorney Lori Kaspar – said they still intend to vote for Trump.

Kaspar, who noted that she never intended to vote for Trump to begin with, referred to defense by others of Trump’s actions as “willful ignorance.”

“He said he (committed sexual assault),” Kaspar said, referring to the 2005 “Access Hollywood” recording leaked to The Washington Post. “I take him at his word.”

Sheriff Roger Deeds agreed that the described behavior constitutes sexual assault but said that he will vote for Trump anyway.

District Attorney Rob Christian, who, like Kaspar, prosecutes sexual assault cases, said the same.

“I will support the Republican nominee,” he said, adding: “I don’t in any way condone many of the things he has said.”

Trump said during Sunday night’s presidential debate that it was merely “locker room talk” and that he never sexually assaulted women.

However, he did not deny the behavior in a brief statement issued late Friday after news of the tape broke, or in a videotaped statement released hours later.

Deeds, County Judge Darrell Cockerham and Precinct 4 Commissioner Steve Berry noted that there has apparently been no outcry by women against Trump.

Kaspar, however, said that it is not unusual for victims to feel so shamed and powerless – particularly if their abuser is someone in authority – that they never report the abuse, or report it years after it occurred.

The HCN was not able to reach every local elected official due to time constraints and county offices being closed Monday.

Messages seeking comment were left for some who didn’t respond to those messages by press time. They include state Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury).

Officials reached by the HCN denounced Trump’s behavior, but cited loyalty to the Republican Party and its principles as their reasons for continuing to support him.

Some, such as Berry, expressed a desire for Republicans to control who gets appointed to the Supreme Court.

All said that, while Trump may be flawed, he is a better choice than Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

Both Clinton and Trump have high unfavorable ratings.

Mike Lang, who is unopposed on the Nov. 8 ballot to take over the District 60 state representative seat, emailed a statement to the HCN Tuesday morning.

He said “anyone with principle understands what Donald Trump said was wrong.

“However, once again my local newspaper has engaged in the typical liberal media bias that is rampant throughout our Country.

“I say that because in light of Secretary Clinton’s countless scandals, I have never been asked about my opinion and why I would or would not vote for her.”

Precinct 2 Commissioner Butch Barton said that his support for Trump is based on “ideological differences.”

He said that he is “still on board” with Trump, but that “I do have to swallow hard when it comes to the individual.”

District Clerk Tonna Hitt said that she did not follow the weekend’s news coverage closely due to dealing with a family matter. However, she knows she is still firmly in the Trump camp.

“Definitely, yeah, I’m sticking with him,” she said. “I can’t stand Hillary Clinton. There’s just no way I would ever consider voting for her.”

Hitt is not the only female elected official to stand behind the Republican nominee, despite fears within the party that more tapes may be coming.

Tax Assessor-Collector Teresa McCoy still intends to vote for Trump, too.

McCoy noted, however, that, like Hitt, she had not closely followed the news over the weekend.

“I’m very disturbed by it and need to do some additional research,” she said. “I’m really sad that our choices are what they are.”

Cockerham echoes those sentiments.

“We are the laughing stock of the world because of those two people,” he said, referring to Trump and Clinton.

“Are those the people you want to influence the morals of our children?”

 The story above was re-printed by permission of the Hood County News.