Friday, January 25, 2008
The Ripple Effect
On Tuesday, the smile was real.
The Governor's most ardent foes have always mocked his smile. They called it rigid, if not wooden -- and fake. But on the day he stood before reporters to explain his decision not to run for re-election, his smile was broad, his gestures were loose and Matt Blunt seemed at ease and at peace.
His administration has been criticized for its communication skills and its accessibility. On Tuesday, Blunt took every single last question reporters threw at him. For more than 45 minutes. It was inevitable that some of us mediafolk would earn our obnoxious reputation -- and ask and re-ask the same intimate questions. "When did you exactly know? The moment, the minute, the second?" "What time did you exactly call Senator Bond? How long was it after you spoke to your family?" Blunt answered them all, without really answering most of them. And at times, he even seemed to enjoy it.
At the same time, he was vintage Blunt. On message. Unwavering. News-less, really. He's never been the kind of politician who lets you inside his head. When I inquired about featuring the Governor in a non-political fun Q&A back in July (Sample question: Where's your favorite vacation spot?), his press office told me he was too busy. When I asked for time with the First Lady for a profile featuring her role as First Spouse, I was told my request was pending. It's been more than two months. There's clearly been a trust issue with the press statewide, and even members of his own party will admit that hindered his administration.
"I prefer to communicate directly with Missourians," Blunt said flatly. "I think there probably is a bias in coverage, but I think it's generally well-known and doesn't necessarily effect my actions," he added.
Blunt won't be remembered as Communicator-in-Chief. And it's possible both his office and the media share some blame for that.
How ironic was it that on this Tuesday, it was Matt Blunt who was fluid and open in his press conference, and Jay Nixon who was rigid and structured.
Downstairs, a floor below, Jay Nixon was surrounded by cheering Democrats. It had the sense of a post-campaign rally. But once the questioning began, the tone changed. When Nixon was asked about the state of the race, he had to pause. And think. Who really knows? Asked about specific candidates? A longer pause. A short stutter. Jay Nixon thought he knew what he was facing for three years. Now, it's almost back to square one.
"One more question," Nixon's campaign spokesperson shouted. It wasn't more than 15 minutes, and that was enough.
They feel like the new frontrunners -- in the driver's seat. They call the shots. Time is up. There's the message. Move on.
It's a part of the ripple effect that's now trickling down through the corridors of the State Capitol. Everyone is sorting and shifting. But there's no time to try and understand it. After all, you may miss your shot. So as the Lieutenant Governor eyes the top job, candidates begin to announce for the #2 job. As State Treasurer Sarah Steelman ponders a move, there must be eager Republicans waiting for a chance at a step up the ladder. It could ripple as far down to your local State House Representative or Senator. All the dynamics have changed.
Who's in, who's out? Who's crossing who? Is my ally still a friend -- or might he soon become a rival? There are lots of politicos having late nights this week.
One who probably is sleeping well is Matt Blunt.
I'd guess he's probably smiling.