Fox News and Moveon.org can help you win elections, but they're only part of the equation. The smaller the race is, the more true. Legislative candidates still spend months "doing doors," and some Congressional candidates still try to shake as many hands as possible before a primary. Retail politics still exists, but recent trends suggest it might be on its death bed.
Just look at reports on Ron Johnson's campaign. There appears to be some credence to the Feingold campaign's ridiculing of the Republican campaign's reliance on TV ads and its fear of debates. Few really expect a Senate campaign to feature six televised debates, but one might assume a Senate candidate would be available for comment to local newspapers occasionally.
Aside from carefully scripted campaign events, it is hard for the public to get information about his appearances before groups and organizations.
"We don't receive any advance notifications of his travels or appointments," said Stewart Rieckman, general manager and executive editor of the Oshkosh Northwestern, Johnson's hometown newspaper.
The Associated Press says the same thing. The Wisconsin Newspaper Association also inquired about a campaign schedule for member newspapers, but the Johnson campaign has not responded, according to Beth Bennett, the group's executive director.
This is to be expected. Ron Johnson is the symptom of a wave election. He has no experience, very little unique appeal but lots and lots of money. His fortunes are based on national media narrative, an energized GOP base and a demoralized Democratic base. Hence, he stays away from the electorate, runs ads which frame the election as a referendum on Obama and the Washington establishment, and hopes the wave carries him to victory. Both parties use empty suits in such situations, but Johnson, who was promoted from nobody to somebody in the course of several weeks, is a particular striking example of the practice.
However, it's not just the Ron Johnsons of the world who are keeping the media from warping its fine-tuned messaging:
Steven Roberts, a former New York Times reporter who is a professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University, says what Johnson is doing has become a trend for many candidates - Republican and Democrat. He said the template began with Barack Obama when he was a candidate and continued when Sarah Palin became a household name.
As I discussed recently, the web often gives us up-to-speed rebuttals of the carefully crafted campaign messages. That may be good for democracy, but it does not make up for the damage that is done when the media and voters are denied the opportunity to grill candidates and get them off their talking points, as the infamous Katie Couric interview, as well as RoJo's Tea Party vetting sessions, demonstrated.
Even in local elections, new media is frequently an important center of attention. The candidates still go out and do doors, but campaigns also spar over Facebook friends and Twitter followers. A well-worded tweet may get the attention of more people than a day at the doors, and the increasingly-starved print press rarely covers the down-ballot races anyway.