POLITICS
03/12/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Local Coverage Of Stimulus Better Than National Press

The stimulus package stumbling through Congress may have taken a beating on cable and in the national press, but the story's been much different outside of the capital, an analysis done by Democrats finds.

The findings come amid reports that President Obama told congressional Democrats that if he had it to do over again, he would have gone to the American people sooner to make a full-throated case for the stimulus.

The Democratic analysis suggests that strategy would have worked better than the above-it-all, post-partisan, everybody's-got-good-ideas approach that crashed on the shoals of unanimous House Republican opposition and near-party-line objections in the Senate.

The office of Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and an assistant to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), looked at a total of 330 local stories between January and February.

Democrats looked at 29 districts that Democrats took over in either 2006 or 2009, districts that tend to be swing or conservative districts. Democrats determined that 92 percent of the local stories portrayed the stimulus in a positive light, touting the benefits the spending would bring to struggling local economies.

Of newspaper stories, 91 percent were positive; TV, 96 percent; and radio, 85 percent. The analysis excludes editorials and columns and stuck exclusively to reported stories.

Such an analysis, of course, is necessarily subjective, and Democrats certainly aren't uninterested observers. Indeed, one top Democratic aide told the Hill newspaper Roll Call, in a story out Monday, "Everyone is really unhappy on the messaging ... Members are apparently getting beaten up badly on the package at home and don't think the president is doing enough to sell it."

"It's hard for House Democrats to claim a positive response in Democratic districts when their senior aides are expressing the exact opposite. This is nothing more than a desperate attempt by House Democrats to save face following a string of PR embarrassments for defending a trillion-dollar spending bill that favors special interests over job creation," said Paul Lindsay, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

"What this report shows is that there is a huge disconnect between the national coverage of the recovery bill and what is being reported in local communities across the country," said Van Hollen aide Doug Thornell. "My guess is if House Republicans spent less time promoting their failed ideas of the past on cable news and more time meeting with laid off workers in their districts they might be more in step with the country."

Democratic leadership had encouraged House Democrats to "own" the stimulus. If you're going to vote for it, might as well make the strongest case, went the reasoning. Vulnerable Democrats held a series of town hall meetings and were rewarded in the local press. Obama is now patterning his own strategy after the House Democrats, beginning a national tour to highlight the local benefits of the stimulus.

Take the coverage in the Staten Island Advance Jan. 31st. "Wasting no time building grassroots support for the $819 billion stimulus spending package passed by the House of Representatives earlier this week, Rep. Michael E. McMahon pitched the plan, expected to win Senate approval by mid-February, to a group of North Shore senior citizens yesterday," reads the story's lead. "And they liked what they heard."

Or take on NBC 29, an affiliate in a rural Virginia area represented by freshman Rep. Tom Perriello, headlined, "Boosting School Funding in Albemarle."

"Over the next two years Albemarle schools are slated to receive more than $5.5 million from the [stimulus] package. Perriello says it's an attempt to alleviate the burden the federal government has been putting on them. The federal government has placed many mandates on schools, including the No Child Left Behind Act. The problem is there isn't federal money put toward meeting the needs," reports the local channel.

"Students at Greer speak 60 different languages, but regardless of their differences they all wanted to know if Perriello had met Barack Obama. The principal at Greer said he's never seen students so engaged in the political process as he has this year," the story goes on.

The headline and sub-headline alone in a January 29th Lansing State Journal story illustrate the problem for Republicans on the ground. "Stimulus bill could bring 158,000 jobs to Michigan," reads the headline.

"GOP lawmakers criticize passage of $819 billion plan," reads the sub-head.

The analysis might explain some recent polling numbers. Despite reports in the national press that Republican are finally feeling their oats, the public at large isn't with them. Only 31 percent of Americans said they approved of the way congressional Republicans have been handling efforts to pass the stimulus package, compared to 48 percent for congressional Democrats and 67 percent for President Obama. Fifty-one percent said that passage was "critically important," while a paltry sixteen percent said it was "'not that important."