Sen. Lindsey Graham, who has fallen overboard from Tuesday’s presidential debate, is sending out an SOS to early-state voters.
Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, is warning that the poll-driven criteria that TV networks are using for debate qualification amount to a treacherous iceberg for states like Iowa.
“What this does, it really undercuts Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina,” he said in a phone interview on Monday.
He said because the focus is on national polling, “you’re sort of encouraged to say outrageous things.”
As if some of these candidates needed more encouragement. Graham said the need to raise national poll numbers works against candidates who are spending time establishing a presence in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
Essentially, he’s making the same argument I raised back in May, before the very first debate. National polls test the opinions of many voters who aren’t paying attention to the race. They reward fame and money more than a candidate’s ability to connect with people who will cast the first nominating votes.
Graham noted that the difference in poll numbers between a candidate who qualified for the debate and one who didn’t is very small. “Seventy percent of the field is in single digits with a margin of error of four to five points,” he said. “It’s crazy!”
Graham has another beef, which Politico highlighted last week. One of the four polls used to qualify candidates did not include Graham’s name. “It’s crazy to use a poll against a candidate whose name wasn’t in the poll,” he said.
That’s true to a point. Graham, as a candidate with national standing, has been included in most national polls. So it seems arbitrary to leave him out if other candidates with similar status are included. However, there are few stages large enough for all the legally filed Republican candidates whose names never appear in polls.
Please help support the fight to keep America safe with your generous donation.
And if Graham is looking for a lifeline from early states, he’s probably not going to get one from Iowa, where he’s rarely campaigned, or even New Hampshire, where he’s going hard. RealClearPolitics polling average for Graham is at 0.5 percent in Iowa and New Hampshire for the last four polls. If early state polls were included, South Carolina would save him — but that might been seen as an unfair home-state advantage.
Having watched all three debates, all with undercard programs for low-polling candidates, I’m also feeling more sympathy for those who want fewer candidates on the stage. The roundly criticized CNBC debate focused attention on the moderators, with valid reason. But it also highlighted problems inherent in having too many candidates vying for precious seconds in the spotlight. There simply isn’t time for in-depth exploration of candidates’ positions on issues, so we get hot pokers, red meat and uncivil attacks.
The view from Iowa, however, is not the common perspective. If we did holiday shopping the way we do the caucuses, we’d have the Christmas trees lit on Valentine’s Day. It’s getting late in Iowa, but it’s too early for most of the nation to arbitrarily dump candidates from debates.
Considering that the debates so far have been ratings bonanzas for the networks, it’s not out of bounds to suggest randomly separating the entire Republican field into two equivalent prime-time programs. Let’s see how candidates fare when it’s fair.
Support Security is Strength PAC with your generous donation.