Lost dog -- not political race -- is talk of Davenport, Iowa
Republican presidential hopefuls in Iowa undertook a flurry of campaigning on Monday before today's caucuses -- yet many Iowans appeared bored by the campaign or distracted by local issues.
Consider what the most read story has been in recent days in the Quad-City Times, a regional paper based in Davenport. No, it wasn't about any of the Republican candidates -- including three who recently visited the Quad-Cities: Mitt Romney, Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich.
The most popular local story was about a lost dog -- an Irish Setter named "Jill."
As the paper explains: Jill disappeared in a local park on December 19 while chasing deer. Since then, owner Michael O'Banion, a veterinarian, has made an all-out effort to find her, including using some unusual hi-tech efforts, such as employing a company making automatic telephone about the dog to residents. O'Banion is particularly concerned because the dog takes medication for seizures.
Readers were touched by the story. "Dr. O'Banion, I know personally how heartbreaking it is to have a lost dog," wrote one online commentator. "I have been praying for a New Year's miracle for you and Jill!"
What's going on here? According to an article by Associated Press writer Thomas Beaumont,
"Candidates have barely visited the state, compared with years when most all but moved here. And they have largely refrained from building the grass-roots armies of yesteryear, in favor of more modest on-the-ground teams of paid staffers and volunteers."
Instead of concentrating on Iowa, he goes onto explain, campaigns have campaigns have "largely gravitated around a series of 13 nationally televised debates, a crush of television ads and interviews on media outlets watched by many Republican primary voters, like Fox News Channel."
"(P)eople here simply don't know the Republican presidential candidates that well. And it's a big reason why the contest in Iowa is so volatile and why the caucus outcome could end up being more representative of the mood of national Republicans than in past years when GOP activists here have gone it alone by launching an unlikely front-runner to the top of the field."
Steve Scheffler, a Republican National Committee member and president of the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition, offered a harsher analysis, telling the Washington Times: "I've never seen such amateurism in a Republican field of presidential [nomination] candidates. None of these campaigns, with the possible exception of [Texas Rep.] Ron Paul's, has the organizational infrastructure we've seen in past presidential caucuses in Iowa."
In other Iowa newspapers, meanwhile, online stories about the presidential campaign also failed to make the list of most read stories early Tuesday. In the Iowa City Press-Citizen, the top story was about Stephen Bloom, a New Jersey native and University of Iowa journalism professor, who wrote a nasty article for The Atlantic portraying Iowa as a redneck state composed of Jesus freaks, meth heads, and hunting enthusiasts.
In the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, the most read story was an obituary about the death of a young woman named Melissa Ann Kimball. And in the Mason City Globe Gazette, the top story was about how a local skating rink has new owners.
What qualifies as news is not often what people are actually talking about. And the fact that this is the case in Iowa in respect to the election campaign (and what the most read articles actually are) underscores how uninspiring the Iowa campaign has been this year.
No wonder that Jill, the lost Irish Setter, is the talk of Davenport.