The neighboring state phenomenon

NewMexiKen wonders about the conventional wisdom that says politicians should do well in neighboring states because they are known commodities there. The media repeatedly cite this canard. Supposedly Gephardt’s failure in Iowa, for example, doomed him because he was from Missouri next door and therefore should have done well in Iowa. First Kerry’s low numbers in New Hampshire, then his surge to victory, were reported as partially because he was from Massachusetts next door and known to New Hampshire voters.

Isn’t this pretty silly? I live in New Mexico and am relatively informed (20 for 20 on The Week Quiz!). I can name both of my U.S. Senators, of course. And Arizona’s. But I can’t name both of the Senators from the other states that border on New Mexico; in most instances I can’t name either. I sure can’t name more than a couple Representatives (Udall in Colorado comes to mind). I can’t name any of the governors except Arizona’s, and I couldn’t spell her name.

Now admittedly, the states that border New Mexico are larger than the states that border Massachusetts, but I am not sure that means anything. While some New Hampshire residents may read The Boston Globe, I doubt that many do. I suspect that most residents of New Hampshire watch local news on New Hampshire TV stations, not the Boston stations. Would anyone in Iowa read a Missouri newspaper regularly? Would they watch St. Louis or Kansas City TV?

I concede that a politician may do well regionally (Edwards in the south, for example — perhaps). I think that is not because they are better known in neighboring states, however, but because their home region is part of their image. Some voters indeed may identify with the homies.

But that is not what the media is saying when they say Gephardt should have done well in Iowa because he is from nearby Missouri.