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It's tricky for political writers to frame a campaign story just before an election. Whether the story's about a big deal or small potatoes will probably depend on the framing.
For instance . . .
As Tuesday's primary approached, Republican Senate candidate Jim Oberweis spent a few days in Florida. Political reporter Natasha Korecki said in last Friday's Sun-Times that Oberweis's sojourn "created a firestorm."
Did it? Or did the media create the firestorm by treating Oberweis's trip to Florida as a major political blunder? Before the trip was reported, polls showed Oberweis, a state senator with a familiar name thanks to his dairy business and previous campaigns, running well ahead of Doug Truax for the Republican nomination. If the trip hadn't been reported, it's not clear if many Republican voters would have noticed. If it had been reported without comment, it's not clear how many Republican voters would have cared. It's been a horrible winter; who in his right mind would have turned down a chance to get away from it for a while? Oberweis even offered an excuse: he'd promised the trip to his wife for her birthday.
Oberweis's days in Florida were fair game for his opponent, who said they showed Oberweis's lack of commitment to the Senate race and called him a "timid snowbird." The Tribune's John Kass picked up the cue. Kass called Oberweis a "perennial big-bucks candidate and political gaffe machine" and snickered, "Fly, Jimmy Snowbird. Fly away. Fly, little bird. Fly." In a second column, Kass said Oberweis's "embarrassing escape to Florida" and willingness to "[throw] his own wife under the bus for his recent political troubles" indicate he "might not really want to be in the race."
In her own follow-up piece, Korecki reported that Truax "reveled in [Oberweis's] political gaffe."
So it was decided. Oberweis had committed a "gaffe" by going somewhere warm while it was cold—and while running for office. There's a certain circular imperiousness about this judgment: because voters will say it's so, we say it's so; and because we say it's so, voters will say it's so; and if they don't, they should have.
So gaffe it is. Oberweis's fate is in the hands of millions of hundreds of thousands of voters who either took their own trips south or wish to God they could have.