Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Backgrounding Candidates: Who Are These People?

Before you interview your candidates, make sure you know something about them. You'll ask better questions. You won't get snowed quite so much. Here's some tips on researching a candidate's background.

1. Read all about them. Many candidates these days will include links to favorable news coverage on their Web sites. A better strategy is to newspaper archives or check with Lexis-Nexis or Newsbank. Look for clashes in d substance and style. Build your story around the differences.

2. Visit Project Vote Smart. You'll be glad you did. The nonprofit, nonpartisan site tracks all sorts of information about candidates. You'll find biographical details, links to how much money they've raised, their positions on major issues of the day, their voting records or better yet, how their voting records look to various special interest groups. Has your candidate voted with or against education most of the time? That sort of thing.

3. Check the candidates' Web sites (all serious candidates have them now). See if the information matches what you know to be true about them. See what the political blogs are saying. (Most of them are hightly partisan, so put them in context.)

4. Check the political advertising on How are the candidates portraying each other on television? It might be fun to ask them to react to the commercials. Which one bugs them the most? Is the tenor of the campaign nasty or civil? Are the commercials informative or vague and fluffy?

5. Check in the candidate's home counties to see if they've been convicted of a crime or the subject of lawsuits.

Only after you done these things should you site down and write a list of questions you'd like to ask your candidates. Craft them carefully. Make candidates response to specific points with specific answers.

If you've read the clips, you'll know that stuff cold. Toss in some odd but revealing questions such as "Who's your political role model?" or "What mistake have you learned the most from?" or "What's the one thing people would be surprised to know about you that hasn't been reported?" (Montana's Lee State Bureau reporters ask candidates what's the latest book they've read -- other than the Bible, of course.)

No comments: