- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 22, 2002

The sniper shootings that have dominated network news also are cutting into their national election coverage, and that could affect voter turnout, some party officials said yesterday.
"To the extent that people take their cues from the national news in terms of how important the elections are, it could have a suppressive effect," said John Hancock, executive director for the Missouri Republican Party.
He said the Nov. 5 midterm elections probably would be getting a lot more attention, especially since "we're going to elect a Senate and 34 governors," if not for the deadly attacks in Washington that began Oct. 2.
"It is becoming harder and harder to crash through Iraq, the sniper attacks and fears over terrorism in the competition for people's total attention," said Joe Kyrillos, New Jersey Republican chairman.
National party officials said that the networks' coverage of the hunt for the sniper has not affected what the candidates are talking about and what voters are most concerned about the economy, Social Security and prescription-drug benefits.
"The coverage inside the Beltway is very different from coverage outside the Beltway. You have a lot more coverage about what's happening to the economy, local job layoffs and pensions," said Maria Cardona, spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee.
"This all comes down to what people are fearing, regardless of the media coverage here," she said.
Jim Dyke, spokesman for the Republican National Committee, said candidates are focusing on what voters are asking about and should not be negatively affected by the current lack of coverage.
"As far as the coverage goes, I wouldn't think that it has an impact on the elections. We think all races are local. The issues that are important are the ones the candidates are talking about and the voters have been asking questions about," said Mr. Dyke.
Still, with all the airtime devoted to the sniper, people are hearing a lot less about other things and that could have an effect, said pollster Andrew Kohut of Pew Research.
"With the anniversary for 9/11 the debate on war with Iraq and now this, we seem to go from one thing to the next, rather than talking about the issues on which the elections could turn," Mr. Kohut said.
Within the Washington region, the sniper shootings have intensified the debate over gun control in Maryland's governor's race between Democratic Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and her Republican opponent, Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.
But elsewhere in the country, state chairmen said the campaign battles are being fought out in TV ads, mass mailings and televised debates, outside of the network news coverage.
In New Hampshire, where politics is nearly a year-round business, Democratic Chairman Kathleen Sullivan said the sniper story "gets coverage, but I don't think it has taken away from the political coverage. I don't think it is having much of an effect on the races up here."
"Politics is our sport and our statewide television station has devoted pretty much one segment on the campaign every night," she said.
Her Republican counterpart, John Dowd, agrees. "I don't think [the sniper coverage] is crowding out political coverage here. There are the debates, voter forums and a lot of other events at an extraordinary high energy level," he said.

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