Welcome to the third in my random series of columns I like to call “How we do the things we do.”

Today’s subject is coverage of primary elections. While the focus specifically will fall on the June 6 Iowa primaries, much of the philosophy applies to any primary election.

For starters, we did have coverage of the Iowa primaries in the June 7 paper. Judging by phone calls I’ve taken, more than a few people were unable to see the picture of Chet Culver, thumbs raised, right at the top of page one in full color. The text beside Chet — who won the Democratic gubernatorial nomination — said, in half inch-tall, all blue capital letters, “Culver, Whalen top polls.” Underneath that line were the words “Braley also fares well in Iowa primary elections on Tuesday” and a direction to see page 10B.

I will concede one error, that being there also was primary coverage on page 7B that wasn’t teased to on page one. That was a mistake on my part. But given that there really were only three contested primaries (Democratic gubernatorial and in both parties for Iowa’s 1st Congressional District), I still believe putting the names of all three winners in big type above the fold — so anyone could see without even buying the paper — was a good move.

We decided not to put the full election story on page one for one basic reason — we had better local stories that day. Two Clinton police officers serving in the Naval Reserves had returned from active duty in Iraq and the Meadowview Pool board was announcing its plans to reopen. The Meadowview story, in particular, has made quite the splash (pun intended) among our readers in the last few weeks.

Another story was coverage of a Camanche City Council meeting at which new sewer rates and fences for inflatable pools were discussed. Clinton residents know all about sewer fee increases and ought to enjoy commiseration, and they also ought to pay attention to the inflatable pool discussion since it came before the Clinton council just last night.

The logic, then, is putting local stories by Herald reporters, paired with art by the Herald photographer, on the front page and relegating Associated Press material elsewhere, while also telling readers where to find it if that’s what floats their boat. This is News About You, after all.

And yet, I had one caller who complained (anonymously, of course) she couldn’t find the election coverage and didn’t care about seeing the officers back from Iraq story in the Herald as she’d already read it in another newspaper. She hung up before I could ask why it was OK for her to read that story in the other paper but not the election coverage.

Another problem I’ve encountered is a failure to understand what primary elections are all about. I fielded a handful of calls from readers wanting to know how Clinton Mayor LaMetta Wynn fared, and tried politely each time to explain Wynn was running unopposed for the Republican nomination, not head-to-head with Sen. Roger Stewart, who she will face in November.

The number of votes Wynn got in Clinton County (636) compared to Stewart (1,030) is pretty much irrelevant. If you asked for a Republican ballot, you had only one name to select in Senate District 13. Ditto for Democrats, though the name on that ballot was different.

Beyond that, District 13 includes all of Jackson and the southern part of Dubuque county. So knowing how Wynn did in Clinton County doesn’t paint the whole picture. Even if we did print the numbers from the whole district, it still wouldn’t tell the entire story.

Why? Because voters who turn out for primaries typically are heavily involved with a particular party. There may be a few independents who choose to cast ballots for one party or another, but the votes pretty much reveal the will of those who care the most and not the voting population at large, which will increase significantly when the general election rolls around.

As we’ve been told several times, registered independents in Iowa far outpace those affiliated with a political party. I suspect many voters are like me. I had opinions on who should win both congressional primaries. Unable to vote in both, I opted for neither. I’m also sincere about being an independent, and getting involved in a primary seems a corruption of that stance.

Independents who did vote probably requested a Democrat ballot because that gave them a say in not just a Congressional race but also the gubernatorial nomination (the GOP side was a wash since U.S. Rep. Jim Nussle was running unopposed).

That’s why Stewart having more votes than Wynn says nothing right now. Add up all the Clinton County votes cast for the four Democratic gubernatorial candidates and they top Nussle by 480 votes. I think Nussle will fare better than 41.7 percent in Clinton County in November when all of us get party-neutral ballots.

I also spoke to a woman who asked when they (I’m still not sure who the “they” is) decided not to vote on June 7. I told her elections are always on a Tuesday. She said she wouldn’t vote on the Devil’s day (6/6/06), as if I could have changed that. She did give me a chuckle though, with her thoughts for where Republican Congressional nominee Mike Whalen should be hit and with what.

So if you find yourself wondering where the stories were and why, now you know. And if you were wondering who won all the unopposed primaries, it’s the people who had their names on the ballot. And if you’re wondering why the state encouraged us all to head to the polls on the Devil’s day, well… I guess some questions just can’t be answered.



Scott T. Holland’s column appears every Wednesday in the Clinton Herald. His e-mail address is scottholland@clintonherald.com.

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