In the new age of digital media as the flow of information spreads faster than ever, it is curious how the mainstream media managed to fail so miserably in its predictions while covering the GOP gubernatorial primary. It was reported over and over that Edelblut somehow swooped in and commanded second place despite virtually all media reporting that the race was essentially between Executive Councilor Chris Sununu and Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas.
Following the final results, a number of articles highlighting a “surprise” or “unexpected” near-victory from candidate Frank Edelblut were published. The Associated Press reported that Edelblut made “a surprisingly strong play for the nomination.” One week later, the AP reported that “few expected political newcomer Frank Edelblut to be one of the final players” because Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas was #1 in fundraising and enjoyed high name recognition.
Sununu and Gatsas are undoubtedly well-known. It’s also clear that in the beginning of this race, Edelblut was indeed largely unknown. He’d spent most of his life as a business owner and only became interested in political office a few short years ago, and this fact was reflected in several articles. However, the coverage of his campaign seemed to end there; the media appeared satisfied that it had mentioned Edelblut at all, and they stubbornly stuck to their illustration of Edelblut as a faint long shot while shaping the election as a race to be won either by Sununu or Gatsas.
Public condemnations swapped among candidates makes for sensation and WMUR, the typical voter’s go-to local news station in New Hampshire, wasted little time in its coverage of “conflict” between Sununu and Gatsas as well as former State Sen. Jeanie Forrester, who, like Edelblut, dealt with low name recognition at the beginning of her campaign. WMUR placed further focus on Sununu’s and Gatsas’ public squabbling over incidents that included the heroin epidemic and the Northern Pass, as well as Forrester’s intermittent criticisms of the two.
While the media reported largely on updates from the Sununu, Gatsas and Forrester campaigns, the Edelblut campaign amassed hundreds of volunteers, who visited over 30,000 doors bearing unique extra-large flyers detailing Edelblut’s principles and plans for New Hampshire. Edelblut also purchased an impressively large chunk of airtime for his television ads and mailed out five different flyers, determined to reach every primary voter. This was brushed off by the media despite the campaign regularly sharing these developments. In just a few short months, Edelblut evolved from being an unknown to a serious contender, yet somehow despite the strong buzz of grassroots presence all over the state the media was unaware until the counting of votes were well underway.
Come primary election night, Edelblut’s team of supporters watched their hard work paying off, as Edelblut quickly commanded second place and even enjoyed some time in first place before the vote count tightened between himself and Sununu. Forrester admitted defeat early in the evening, quickly followed by Gatsas.
But how was that possible? The AP stated that Gatsas “was expected to do well” in the race, going so far as to say that he had been “expected to place in the top two.” The Concord Monitor reported that “many expected a tight race between Sununu and Ted Gatsas, but Edelblut overtook the Manchester mayor early on primary night.” NH1 News noted that “for those closely watching this race, [Edelblut’s] better than expected showing was no surprise.”
One might wonder why such media outlets were not among those closely watching this race all year, as each publication has a dedicated political team; it’s reasonable to assume these teams are actually keeping an eye on every candidate’s campaign trail since it is their job to do so.
In addition to the ignorance of his press releases to the media, perhaps the sparse polling conducted ahead of the primary kept reporters from delving into the Edelblut campaign’s strategies. The last poll before the election, and also the second of just two major polls, showed primary voters favoring Edelblut at only 4% and Republican voters favoring Edelblut at 10%. The poll also showed that 79% of respondents “did not know enough” about Edelblut to hold any opinion of him,” while 76% of Republican primary voter respondents “did not know enough about him to say.”
The primary results clearly conflict with the implication given by this poll that barely anyone knew who Edelblut was. To be clear, the poll was conducted just before Edelblut launched his TV ads and sent a barrage of mailers to primary voters.
However, a press release provided by the Edelblut campaign stated that he had nearly completed his mission of reaching every primary voter through targeted social media as well as knocking on tens of thousands of doors. The press release also showed Edelblut’s impressive collection of endorsements, accolades and victories:
- A 100% rating from Americans for Prosperity – New Hampshire (AFP-NH) on its 2016 Scorecard
- An A+ rating from New Hampshire Firearms Coalition
- Endorsements from the Conway Daily Sun, the 603 Alliance, New Hampshire Liberty Alliance (the group’s first gubernatorial endorsement), New Hampshire Right to Life, the NH Conservative Majority Project, Liberty Ballot, and the Home School Legal Defense Association.
- Victory at the New Hampshire Coalition of Taxpayers straw poll, commanding a huge win with 61.7 % of the vote
- A straw poll win that followed his outstanding debate performance at the Windham GOP gubernatorial debate with 59% of the vote
In spite of delivering consistent releases clearly showing Edelblut’s clear momentum, the media chose not to use them. For some reason, the idea of a Sununu/Gatsas showdown seemed to be the preferable narrative.
This shows a troubling issue regarding this recent political coverage: rather than gathering facts from the campaign trail and offering the whole picture, the mainstream media appears hellbent on shaping its own story.
Edelblut was certainly not blacked out by the media, but he was unfairly assigned a “dark horse” role that simply did not fit.
It is no wonder that the only thing the media could report following the primary was its collective surprise.