Thirty-seven governorships are up for grabs in November, along with all 435 seats in the House and 37 in the Senate. And only a handful of the more hotly contested races will get significant national media coverage from now through Election Day.
So it’s a little surprising that the national press is now lavishing the most attention on a candidate who cable pundits and political analysts expect to lose big in November: Alvin Greene.
The South Carolina Democrat has been the lead newsmaker in 2010 coverage since coming out of nowhere to win the June 8 Senate primary. Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism crunched the numbers and provided The Upshot with its internal analysis of media coverage across 52 major news outlets, from South Carolina’s primary day through July 18.
South Carolina Republican gubernatorial contender Nikki Haley came in second place, according to the nonpartisan organization. Other candidates near the top: California’s Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman, Arkansas’ Blanche Lincoln and Nevada’s Sharron Angle.
Pew's associate director, Mark Jurkowitz, described Greene as a “political and personal curiosity” and expects that attention will shift in the fall given that other House and Senate races could determine the balance of power in Washington.
As for the summer, he said: "This is the time for the Greene story."
Why so much coverage?
Greene, an unemployed army vet, received scant media attention before the June 8 primary. But immediately after, he made the cable news rounds and reporters staked out his Manning, South Carolina, home. The media had a lot of initial questions, such as how an unemployed man got $10,000 to run, whether he was a Republican plant, and if he actually showed pornography to a college student, as was alleged in a criminal complaint against him.
Throughout, Greene has been accessible. It’s a rarity in 2010 for a candidate to permit so much press access. Candidates typically shield themselves with press aides; speak more to sympathetic, partisan media outlets; or try side-stepping the media filter by speaking directly to voters through social network sites.
Indeed, Greene answered himself when The Upshot called his home Friday.
“Everything around it is different — just unconventional,” Greene said, explaining why he thought his candidacy was garnering so much press attention. A few minutes later, Greene pledged to me that, if he overcomes the odds and defeats incumbent GOP Sen. Jim DeMint, he’ll “end the recession.”
Few candidates make such declarations, and even fewer make the occasionally bizarre statements Greene has issued in newspaper and magazine profiles. For instance, he told the Guardian, a British paper, that one way to create jobs would be to start making Alvin Greene toys. One figure could be in his army uniform, another in a suit.
News outlets are quick to jump on Greene’s quirky comments, including The Upshot, which imagined what an Alvin Green action figure might look like. These days, anything Greene-related is immediately covered, and sometimes, it seems, without the typical rigor that news organizations employ when reporting on other candidates.
The New York Times, among other outlets, reported that Greene made his first official campaign video on Thursday, after a YouTube clip went viral. Greene didn’t make the video, as CNN accurately reported. The Times apparently hadn't confirmed its account with Greene and posted a correction the next day.
Could Greene surprise the political establishment again?
The short answer, nearly all political observers agree, is "no" — even though expansive press coverage is held to be a huge asset in statewide races that hinge largely on a candidate's name recognition. “He has absolutely no shot at all of winning this race,” said Jennifer Duffy, a senior editor at the Cook Political Report.
Duffy’s opinion isn’t an isolated one, and surely candidates around the country — whether currently in close races or looking for the media’s help in boosting name recognition — would like a bit of the attention that news organizations have lavished on Greene. She mentioned how Senate candidates like Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson, North Carolina's Elaine Marshall and Iowa’s Roxanne Conlin would “kill for the exposure that Alvin Green is getting.”
The local press remains hot on the Greene story too.
Corey Hutchins, a political reporter with the alternative weekly Free Times, wrote the only pre-primary profile of Greene and said that interest hasn’t slowed down since the candidate's surprise primary win.
“When I leave the newsroom, the Alvin Greene story is what people are coming up and asking me about all the time,” Hutchins said, adding that his stories are bringing readers from around the world to the Columbia paper's website.
“It’s become a competition,” Hutchins said. “I think it’s worldwide — who can get the most bizarre quote that will land your story on the cable channel that night.”