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Fox News and Wall Street Journal mogul Rupert Murdoch has gone public with his dislike of Mitt Romney. Murdoch tweeted on July 1, “Met Romney last week. Tough O Chicago pros will be hard to beat unless he drops old friends from team and hires some real pros. Doubtful.” Murdoch is displeased that Romney has retained some of the same campaign advisers from his 2008 run for president. Last week, Murdoch tweeted about Romney, “Seems to play everything safe, make no news except burn off Hispanics.”
When asked if he had contributed to Romney’s campaign, Murdoch replied, “None!” Generally Murdoch is not shy about contributing to political candidates, including Democrats. He contributed $6,500 to Hillary Clinton’s Senate campaigns. 12 percent of his political contributions have gone to Democrats. He has contributed to Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY), John Kerry (D-MA), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Al Gore.
On Thursday of last week, Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal ran a scathing editorial declaring that the Romney campaign was hapless and “looks confused in addition to being politically dumb.”
How valid is this criticism? Romney had the best ground team of the Republican presidential candidates this past year. Many strategists predicted early on that he would cinch the nomination due to his superior organization, something not usually foreseeable in presidential primaries. Romney is slightly behind Obama in polling, but that is not predictive of how the election will turn out. In 1992, incumbent president George H.W. Bush led Bill Clinton by five points in June prior to the election, but went on to lose the election. Political analyst Dick Morris has observed that undecided voters tend to break towards the insurgent.
The polling that has proven most accurate about presidential elections is the incumbent president’s approval ratings. Generally, incumbent presidents must have approval ratings of 49% or above in order to win reelection. Obama’s approval rating is averaging around 47%.
It is impressive Romney is doing this well considering the beating he took in the Republican primary; Obama had no opponent to tear him down. Romney raised $100,000 in June, only the second time a presidential candidate has raised that much money.
It is extremely common for candidates running for office to lose once first, then win the second time. It is not necessarily a reflection of their ability or campaign team if they lose the first time. Ronald Reagan ran for president in 1976 and lost in the Republican primary to Gerald Ford, not cinching the Republican presidential nomination until 1980. George H.W. Bush ran for president in 1980 and lost to Reagan, ultimately winning the Republican nomination in 1988. Presidential campaign teams generally learn from their mistakes the first time around, setting them up for a much better run campaign the second time.
During most of the Republican primary, Romney received the most negative Fox News coverage of the major Republican candidates. In a study by the University of Delaware, viewers were asked about their perceptions of Romney based upon only watching either Fox News’ Hannity, ABC News, The Daily Show, or nothing. More viewers who watched ABC News thought Romney was “in touch” and “inspiring” than viewers who watched Hannity. Sources say Murdoch preferred Rick Santorum in the Republican presidential primary, and wished Chris Christie would have entered the race.
Why the dislike from Murdoch? Murdoch contributed $9,200 to John McCain’s presidential campaign in 2008. His preference for McCain over Romney in 2008 may have left him with a lingering dislike for Romney. Friends and associates of both men say that Murdoch acted less than impressed when Romney visited with Wall Street Journal’s editorial board in 2007. One writer for the New York Timesspeculates, “A teetotaling Mormon from the Midwest and a thrice-married Australian who publishes photos of topless women in one of his British newspapers are bound to have very different world views.”
Murdoch’s dislike of Romney is not because he doesn’t think he is conservative enough. His tweet last week appeared to be criticizing Romney for being too tough on illegal immigration. Murdoch contributes to moderate Republicans like McCain and has more moderate views on issues like illegal immigration, internet freedom and Islamic extremism. Fox News broadcasters are lopsidedly stacked with young blondes in short skirts showing plenty of skin.
Some contrarians – including one of Romney’s own campaign staffers – believe the potshots from Murdoch actually help Romney, by proving to the conservative base that he is not an establishment candidate.
Fortunately, when it became apparent towards the end of the Republican primary that Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum were not likely to win the nomination, Fox News began heavy coverage of Romney. Since then, Murdoch’s dislike of Romney does not appear to have affected Fox News coverage of the presidential general election.
Murdoch has the power to make or break Romney. Considerable swiping at Romney by Murdoch and his news companies could turn off enough Republicans and independents that it costs Romney a few crucial points in the election. Hopefully the sniping does not escalate. While Fox News and the Wall Street Journal may not comfortably line up with most Republicans, they are the best conservatives have in the mainstream media.