The 2020 race has become the cable news primary

Aides to every major Democratic presidential campaign have told The Daily Beast that they’ve been stunned by the degree to which the conversation taking place on cable and national news has impacted the trajectory of the race. At a time when the party is trying to utilize new mediums to expand its reach beyond the traditional electorate, it’s been the old, stodgy TV press—fed by print reporters-turned-pundits—that has had the biggest tangible impact.

Evidence of that paradigm has been visible since the primary got underway, with candidates shunning media and allowing negative story lines to fester suffering as a consequence and those launching aggressive media campaigns seeing unexpected boosts.

“Pete was completely unknown in Iowa, then he did the CNN town hall, and I remember a week and a half or two weeks later, he was in double digits in Iowa,” recalled Lis Smith, a senior aide to former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg. “And I remember someone sent it to me and I thought it was a typo because I had never seen that sort of movement in an early state based off of national media and one appearance at that. It surprised even me how much that moved the needle.”