The most covered candidate of 2010: Christine O’Donnell

Michael Calderone
Media Reporter
The Upshot
O'Donnell is most-covered 2010 candidate
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O'Donnell is most-covered 2010 candidate

Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell didn't get too much national media coverage before upsetting the Republican establishment and winning the Delaware primary in September. But since then, O'Donnell's been all over the news—confirming she's not witch, questioning the separation of church and state, appearing in newly surfaced "Politically Incorrect" clips from the late '90s, and starring in a salacious Gawker story.

In fact, O'Donnell has vaulted from zero national name recognition to garnering more coverage than any other 2010 candidate, according to research provided by Pew's Project for Excellence in Journalism.

"The amount of coverage she's gotten in a short amount of time is dramatic," said PEJ Associate Director Mark Jurkowitz.

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The PEJ tracks news coverage from 52 news outlets across five platforms—broadcast networks, cable news networks, online outlets, newspapers and talk radio. The nonpartisan organization looked back at all election stories from the beginning of the year through Oct. 31 and tallied those in which the 2010 candidate was the lead newsmaker, featured in more than half the story.

President Obama was most often the lead newsmaker in stories focusing on the 2010 election.

PEJ chart
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PEJ chart

But O'Donnell ranked first among 2010 candidates. She was lead newsmaker in 160 stories, a remarkable number considering that most of the stories appeared in just the past two months.

The amount of coverage shows that the media will focus on a candidate who -- despite little chance of winning -- makes headlines with provocative statements and actions out of character with most mainstream politicians. The media similarly pounced on little-known candidate Alvin Greene after he came out of nowhere to win the South Carolina Democratic primary and began making a series of bizarre comments.

Tea party activism was one of the biggest narratives  of the 2010 race, and that media interest is reflected in the amount of coverage given to O'Donnell's fellow movement-supported conservative Senate candidates. Kentucky's Rand Paul came in third among candidates with 88 stories, and Nevada's Sharron Angle appeared as lead newsmaker in 80 stories. (The PEJ's chart, shown here, transposes Paul's first and last names, and it misspells Angle's first name.)

The irony is that the aforementioned candidates have given very little access to the national media in recent months. Angle even refused to answer the questions of reporters who weren't sympathetic to her campaign or willing to let her solicit donations on the air.

Two other tea-party-backed candidates also got a lot of coverage in 2010 (as well as had notable run-ins with the media). New York gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino threatened to "take out" a New York Post reporter; Paladino tied for eighth place among candidates, at 52 stories. And Alaska Senate hopeful Joe Miller—who comes in 10th among candidates, at 47 stories—had a reporter handcuffed by private guards for asking him questions.

Here's a rundown Pew's top 10 candidate newsmakers in 2010 coverage: Christine O'Donnell (160); Meg Whitman (90); Rand Paul (88); Joe Sestak (85); Sharron Angle (80); Harry Reid (74); Charlie Crist (67); Blanche Lincoln (52); Carl Paladino (52);  Jerry Brown (49); and Joe Miller (47).

(Photo of O'Donnell followed by reporters after her Oct. 14 debate with Democrat Chris Coons: AP/ Rob Carr. Chart: Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism.)