John McCain lagged significantly behind Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in the competition for media exposure last week. But when it came to the press narrative, the presumptive GOP nominee was the clear winner. His favorite subject, the Iraq war, was back in the news and he was cheered by some good poll numbers while the Democrats were entangled in damaging story lines.
In many of the weeks since he effectively clinched the nomination on Super Tuesday, McCain has been on the losing side of a battle for headlines. Even last week, according to PEJ's Campaign Coverage Index, he was a significant or dominant factor in 35% of the campaign stories from April 7-13, trailing both Clinton (56%) and Obama (46%). But that 35% also marked McCain's highest level of coverage since Feb. 18-24 when the New York Times ran a widely criticized story suggesting an inappropriate relationship between him and a female lobbyist.
Sometimes, moreover, it's the nature of the coverage rather than the level that counts. Last week, the largest element of campaign coverage involved a subject that McCain has staked his presidential bid on—the Iraq war. Coverage of General David Petraeus' report to Congress accounted for 14% of all campaign coverage. (This re-focus on the debate over Iraq is one reason why the race for the White House had its lowest week of coverage in 2008.)
Although McCain is in the position of supporting an unpopular war, he fared pretty well in the media's analysis of how the three candidates handled Petraeus' presentation. And he was bolstered by a poll that showed the public trusts him more than Clinton or Obama when it comes to handling Iraq, despite that position.
The Arizona Senator also benefited from some media speculation about a vice-presidential running mate that included the name of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. That helps remind voters that McCain is the only one of the three presidential contenders certain to be on the November ballot.
Read the full report McCain Gets Least Coverage But Best Media Narrative on the Project for Excellence in Journalism Web site.