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For the couple days leading up to the Kansas caucuses, prognostication pieces in the news said that the rural parts of the state were going to be a huge factor in deciding the winner.

In her Trail Mix video, Washington Post’s Felicia Sonmez made her key number in the race 44%, representing the number of voters in 2008’s general election who hailed from rural areas (more on this video later).

The New York Times’ FiveThirtyEight blog put together this map showing that Kansans outside the three metros comprise 58% of registered Republicans in the state:

With all that talk about rural Kansas, you think there would be some unusual Kansas datelines from reporters — perhaps Protection, Kan., Skiddy, Kan., or Piqua, Kan.

Let’s take a look at the datelines from various news outlets in the days before and of the caucuses:

NYT: Topeka, Wichita

WaPo: Topeka, Wichita, Lenexa, Olathe (last two surburbs in Kansas City metro)

CNN: Kansas City, Kan.

LA Times: Wichita, Topeka

Not the case. When time came to report, journalists stuck to the metro areas, never leaving their bubble less than an hour from an airport.

Candidate chase

I know the main factor in where political reporters set up shop is where the candidates visit. All those cities you see in the datelines received a visit from either Rick Santorum or Ron Paul in the days before the caucuses — Newt Gingrich gave up on Kansas days earlier, and Mitt Romney saw Guam as more worthy of a visit (ouch).

The big fight in rural areas is drawing candidates there; the reporters will tail. But as the time between races shortens, candidates opt primarily for a touch-and-go gameplan focused on metro areas, and reporters follow suit.

But if you lead up to the caucus talking about the rural areas being key, why not stop and gather a story from a rural area, even if it’s just for 30 minutes? Grab a sandwich and a few quotes. There could have been a really good, unique angle about the Gray County caucus and its 73 voters. Or perhaps the die-hards who had to drive 45 minutes to vote in Parsons because their county didn’t hold its own caucus would make for a great anecdote. Maybe your Kansas caucus story could have stood out from the rest of the press pack’s robotic offerings that day.

But instead nearly all the reporters headed to Wichita, site of one of the largest caucuses, and reported the same anecdotes, interviewed the same folks and capped off their stories with the same victory comments by Santorum’s wife, who was in town as Rick had already moved on to another state to stump.

Basically every reporter took the easy way out and stuck by the airports. It’s disappointing.

WARNING: Things get really snarky from here out. If you’re not a fan of snark, consider jumping to the comments section.

Sticking to stereotypes

Back to the Trail Mix video. Sonmez says she’s recording from a field in Olathe (incorrectly pronounced) before discussing the implication of the rural vote.

And my soul dies as Kansas is cast as a giant field for the rest of the country. Can’t wait for the Idaho standup from atop a mound of potatoes, or the West Virginia standup from a meth lab (or is that Missouri).

And here’s the kicker: Olathe is not rural Kansas. Far from it. Olathe is a city of 125,872.

I guess I should breathe a sigh of relief nobody opted for the Wizard of Oz stereotype, shooting from the Yellow Brick Road in Sedan, Kan. Fortunately, it’s almost four hours from the Kansas City airport.

Luke Morris

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