Early voting, with no 'reason' needed, has been with us here in Illinois for a few cycles now, and as someone who has been involved with several campaigns, I have seen that it has had a profound impact on campaign scheduling and strategy, compared to the old days when 99% of a campaign's effort was geared up to building momentum and getting out the vote on Election Day. Now Election Day stretches for over two weeks, and (for the upcoming November 2, 2010 general election) begins on October 11, 2010.
Given that the primary is now so early, it's not that candidates are pressed for time to get their campaigns up and running. They have more than enough time (in total) to campaign, for sure. But, due to early voting, savvy candidates must have had their say before the voters weeks before Election Day, in order to capture votes from the many folks who have decided to take advantage of the convenience of early voting. Mail campaigns must be adapted, literature must be printed and in the hands of willing precinct committeemen, and the major debates and public appearances have to all reflect that the first day at the polls is now essentially three weeks earlier in the cycle.
Up until now, most newspapers have not adapted to this accelerated election schedule, with most print endorsements coming out well after early voting begins. This has lessened the influence of endorsements (which arguably have long been on the wane anyway) on several levels, from the perspective of the newspaper editorial boards' ability to influence voters, gain revenue from advertising once candidates are awarded endorsements and wish to tout them, and a little free advertising for the newspaper's benefit, as the lucky candidates send reams of direct mail all around their district to brag about their endorsements, usually with eye-catching mock-ups of newspaper mastheads and headlines.
So, finally, it seems some of the newspapers have gotten the message that their interview and endorsement schedules simply aren't keeping up with the times, and are now contacting candidates to get a jumpstart on the traditional fall interview process. I received this e-mail from one such candidate:
The Chicago Tribune this year is beginning its endorsement process for the Nov. 2 election earlier than it has in the past. We want to give guidance to the growing number of early voters. We also want to give endorsed candidates time to use our endorsements in their campaigns. Therefore, we are scheduling some interviews now, in July and August, even before our questionnaires have gone out. You are a candidate I would like to meet. Please contact me at XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX to schedule an interview. If we do not hear from you by July 14, our intern, XXXXXXXX, will contact you.
Thank you so much.
Chicago Tribune Editorial Board
So, it seems like the Tribune, at least, is trying to adapt to the times. Whether this move helps to retain some relevance of newspaper editorial board endorsements remains to be seen, but at least this election cycle, candidates and voters may have a chance to take such endorsements into account before the voting begins.