WASHINGTON — To watch for a wave election in 2018, a team of journalists from two national media outlets is taking a nod from the campaigns they cover.
McClatchy’s East Region Editor Kristin Roberts told McClatchy’s Beyond the Bubble podcast Tuesday that reporters from McClatchy and the online news magazine OZY are teaming up to identify and talk to specific voters they believe will decide key races in November.
They hope to offer an early look at national political trends in the November — while avoiding mistakes the media were criticized for in the 2016 presidential election.
“The Ground Game project really is animated by a single question, and that is, 'Can Democrats engineer a wave election in 2018?'” Roberts told the podcast.
Campaigns have long sliced and diced the electorate to identify early trends and focus resources on the relatively small number of people they think are likely to determine elections.
In new congressional battlegrounds — places where Hillary Clinton over-performed past Democratic presidential nominees — McClatchy is looking for long-time Republicans who rejected Trump in 2016. Beyond the Bubble host and McClatchy national political correspondent Alex Roarty talked to some those voters in Orange County, Calif., this month. One called Trump an "unpatriotic coward."
In other districts, reporters are identifying voters who supported President Barack Obama in 2012 and Trump in 2016.
"There are a lot of them in older battlegrounds, where the white working class has swung between both parties over the course of several elections and is now firmly in the GOP camp," said Roarty. "The question for Democrats... is whether or not they can win them back because a lot of those seats are their top targets for 2018."
McClatchy will focus its 2018 election coverage on six Congressional districts it believes will serve as archetypes in the battle for the House: North Carolina’s 9th, California’s 10th and 45th, Pennsylvania's 8th, Illinois’s 12th and Florida’s 26th.
Democrats need to flip 24 Republican-held seats to take control of the House in November. They're targeting more than 100.
OZY reporters will focus on gubernatorial races in Georgia, Maryland and Michigan and Senate races in Missouri, Arizona and Mississippi — contests they think will offer early insight on voter sentiment nationwide.
“Altogether, we think it’s going to tell a really interesting story that might give us a clue early on about whether this is going to be a really a blue wave, or just a little fizzle and the Republicans remain in control," said Roberts.
The national media took plenty of heat for its predictions in the last election cycle. Many in the media underestimated Trump's potential in the presidential contest, leading critics to suggest reporters weren’t doing enough to reach out to actual voters.
“All of us were involved in one way or another at all of our various publications with the 2016 election,” said Roberts, who oversaw election coverage at Politico during that race. "A lot of readers felt that the news media focused too much on palace intrigue and didn’t really give them a good look at the substance of the races, the candidates and their personalities and where they stood on policy issues."
The Ground Game project will include collaboration with McClatchy's local newsrooms, a video series and a newsletter.
McClatchy senior political correspondent Katie Glueck joined the podcast this week to share early reporting from one of the project's first political stories, a North Carolina race where Democrats’ candidate is using his Marine Corps resume to make inroads with long-time Republicans.
“When we here at McClatchy started talking about how to cover 2018… we wanted to cover politics in a substantive and meaningful way, a way that was relevant to some of our local audiences at McClatchy but also allowed us to tell a larger national story,” said Roberts.