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What If Hunter S. Thompson Had Had Twitter? Books and Biographies on the Campaign Trail

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Des Moines, IA -- Every Presidential election year since 1824 has produced a biography of a candidate who has set his or her sights on the White House. The 2011 election is no different. But a combination of fewer print journalists on the trail, a heavy reliance up to the minute information provided via social media, particularly Twitter, and an overall sense of disillusionment with government and politicians could perhaps signal an end to this tradition.

"The books I am selling the most of these days have to do more with government corruption and budgetary restraint," said John Heitzman on Tuesday.

Heitzman, who spoke by phone from his business, is the owner of The Book Store, a small independent book store just yards from most of the hotels that candidates, campaign staff and media members call home when they make the quadrennial pilgrimage to the state in the lead up to the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses. He has owned the store for 12 years and lives in Des Moines.

Another reason "retail politics" doesn't directly translate to retail business for Heitzman, he said, could be due to the fact that Iowa voters have plenty of opportunities to meet the presidential candidates in person and, thus, hear many of the same stories that are typically told in a lengthy biography.

"Everything is syndicated these days, so I think where I used to get more print journalists, we're now seeing more of the television and Associated Press style coverage," he said. "And I imagine they're pretty busy too while they're here. I know in the past I would get them as they get ready to leave so they have something to read on the plane."

So is the standard presidential biography template used by candidates a technique from a bygone era?

"Maybe," said Heitzman, who suggested that biographies now are mostly useful to a candidate like Herman Cain, who came from relative obscurity to become one of the leading candidates in the Republican field before suspending his campaign indefinitely in Early December.

"Cain's book did well, because he basically came out of nowhere, and people didn't know what to make of him."

According to Steve Grubbs, a veteran operative and former Republican Party of Iowa chairman who led Herman Cain's Caucus effort in Iowa, Cain's book played an important role in his sudden surge in the polls.

"It created a deeper relationship for those among his passionate base of supporters who read it," said Grubbs on Tuesday.

At least one political insider has found a few spare moments to read during the current caucus season.

Iowa Democratic Party Communications Director Sam Roecker said Tuesday that he recently finished Hunter S. Thompson's renowned "Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72," a collection of articles covering the 1972 presidential campaign. Years after it was published, Presidential candidate George McGovern's strategist Frank Mankiewicz called Thompson's reporting "the least factual, most accurate account" of the election.

Too bad Thompson didn't live long enough to have a Twitter account.

Consistent with Heitzman's experience at his store, Jessi Allard, a shift leader at Half Price Books in West Des Moines, also said Tuesday that politically themed book sales did not spike over the holidays, nor over the course of the caucus season.

"For our store, it mostly has to do with how new the book is, but there has not really been a noticeable difference because of the caucuses," said Allard. "Maybe it will, the closer we get to the general election."

As for the books that are selling at Heitzman's store on Locust Street, he named two: "Throw Them All Out," by Peter Schweizer, and "Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress -- and a Plan to Stop," by Lawrence Lessig.

Both would generally be considered a far cry from Sarah Palin's latest book, "America by Heart: Reflections on Family, Faith and Flag."

"Throw Them All Out," which explores a brewing scandal in Washington, examines how the political class in Washington enriches itself at the expense of average Americans through insider trading on Wall Street.

"Both of those books reflect a real dissatisfaction with government," said Heitzman, an attitude he said has gotten worse during the budget stand-offs of the last year.

Tonight is the Iowa Caucus, and nearly a year of combative campaigning will pass before the country goes to the polls to select a president. With Washington lawmakers running in the opposite direction of cooperation to improve much of anything, let alone the economy, Mr. Heitzman will probably have to make room on his shelves for more bitter books about politics in 2012.

Michael J. Hunt, @MJH510, is a political observer, trained in Oakland, based in the Heartland. If you would like to contribute as a citizen journalist to The Huffington Post's coverage of the 2012 elections, please contact us at target="_hplink">www.offthebus.org.