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Last Man Standing

Media, Framing, and the 2012 Republican Primaries

Danielle Sarver Coombs

When Barack Obama was re-elected president in November 2012, his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, took the blame for being alternately too moderate or too conservative. Critics from both within and outside of his party claimed his vast wealth made him unappealing to voters and that his robotic persona meant he just could not connect. How, then, did he win the nomination? What happened during the twelve-month build-up to Romney being named the presumptive nominee for the Republican Party that helped define him as both a man and a candidate? Furthermore, how did media coverage frame his competitors and the race itself, a contest characterized by its rollercoaster nature?

Last Man Standing examines mainstream media coverage of the 2012 Republican primary season to identify and examine the frames used to make sense of the candidates and the race. Through an exhaustive analysis of candidate-related coverage from six major media outlets (The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post for newspapers; CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC for cable news networks), Coombs weaves her examination of media frames into a compelling narrative reconstruction of the 2012 primary season.

This book features:
  • Exhaustive analysis of mainstream media coverage over a twelve-month period
  • Smart, insightful exploration of media frames
  • Chronological structure, which allows for analysis to address how frames shift with candidate’s fortunes
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Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
Pages: 194Size: 6 1/4 x 9 1/2
978-1-4422-2035-5 • Hardback • November 2013 • $76.00 • (£49.95)
978-1-4422-2036-2 • eBook • November 2013 • $72.00 • (£47.95)
Danielle Sarver Coombs is Assistant Professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Kent State University.
Last Man Standing

Table of Contents



Chapter 1: Setting the Stage
  • Understanding the Context
    • Media Framing
    • Primaries
    • Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission
  • Understanding Framing in the 2012 Republican Primaries

Chapter 2:An Unsettled Field (May-June 2011)
  • Meet the Candidates
    • Top-Tier Candidates
      • Jon Huntsman
      • Tim Pawlenty
      • Mitt Romney
    • Tea Party Conservatives
      • Michele Bachmann
      • Herman Cain
      • Newt Gingrich
      • Rick Santorum
    • The Libertarian Fringe
      • Gary Johnson
      • Ron Paul
  • The Race Begins
    • The First Debate: South Carolina
    • Gingrich Implodes: Parts I and II
    • The Evangelical Vote
    • Gingrich Implodes… Again
    • The Second Debate: New Hampshire
    • Bachmann’s Buzz
    • Campaigns in Trouble
    • Rick Perry: A New Alternative to Romney?

Chapter 3: The Race Intensifies (July-August 2011)
  • The Rise of Michele Bachmann
  • Pawlenty’s “Failure to Launch”
  • Huntsman’s “Difficulty Gaining Traction”
  • Romney’s Focused Campaign
  • Perry: A Conservative’s Dream
  • All Eyes on Iowa
    • The Ames Straw Poll
  • Perry “Jolts” the Field
  • Paul’s Predicament
  • Limiting the Pool

Chapter 4:The Rollercoaster Continues (September-October 2011)
  • The Candidates Debate: Simi Valley, CA and Tampa, FL
  • Perry versus Romney
  • Perry Under a Microscope
  • Romney: The “Eat-Your-Vegetables” Candidate
  • Focus on Florida
    • Raising Cain: The Florida Straw Poll
  • The Rise (and Fall) of “Anti-Romney” Candidates
    • Perry Falls Short
    • Bachmann’s Lost Her Buzz
    • Paul Beginning to Surge
    • Cain: The Latest Flavor-of-the-Month
  • October Debates: Hanover, NH and Las Vegas, NV
  • Moving Right
  • Romney: Establishment’s Choice, but What About Voters?
  • The Influence of Debates
  • Getting Ready for the Final Stretch

Chapter 5:The Final Stretch (November-December 2011)
  • Cain: A Candidate Mired in Controversy
  • Vying for Support
  • Cain’s Foreign Policy Debacle
  • Romney: Disciplined Campaigner
  • The Rebirth of Gingrich
  • The End of Cain
  • Campaigning in December: The Final Sprint Begins
    • Romney: Changing Strategy?
    • Can Gingrich Maintain His Position in the Top Tier?
    • Five Days, Three Debates
  • Realities of Winter Campaigns
  • Rallying Behind a Conservative Candidate

Chapter 6: Voting Begins (January-February 2012)
  • The Iowa Caucuses Begin
  • Moving on to New Hampshire
  • South Carolina: The First Southern Primary
  • Creating Racial Tensions
  • Florida: Romney Fights Back
  • Santorum’s Resurgence
  • Romney’s Uncertain Terrain
  • Santorum: The Conservative Alternative?
  • Gingrich: His Own Worst Enemy?
  • Paul: Looking for Leverage
  • Arizona and Michigan: Romney’s Resurgence?

Chapter 7: Last Man Standing (March-April 2012)
  • A Delegate Strategy
  • Build-Up to Super Tuesday
  • No Clear Winner on Super Tuesday
  • Romney: No Excitement, No Inspiration
  • Santorum’s Wild Ride
  • Gingrich and Paul: Still Running, Too
  • Mid-March Madness
  • April: The Race Winds Down
  • Romney: The Last Man Standing

Chapter 8: Conclusion
  • Framing Candidates and Issues
  • Impact of the Tea Party
  • What Happened in 2012?
  • Pragmatism versus Ideology

  • Data Collection
    • Newspaper Articles
      • Table A.1: Newspaper Articles Included in Study
    • Cable News Transcripts
      • Table A.2: Cable News Transcripts Included in Study
    • Drawing the Sample
  • Textual Analysis
  • A Final Note on Methods

Danielle Sarver Coombs’s important study of media coverage of the 2012 Republican primaries should be a wake-up call for journalists and voters. For the mainstream media, Last Man Standing contains good news (their coverage mattered) and bad news (entertainment trumped substance). For voters, Coombs’s superb analysis of political coverage has a clear message: caveat emptor. A must-read for anyone who cares about the twin spectacles of high-stakes journalism and presidential politics.
Craig Flournoy, Associate Professor of Journalism, Southern Methodist University

This brief book is a case study of the media framing of a unique, at times bizarre, presidential primary campaign. Coombs presents in part a chronological narrative of media coverage of the blow-by-blow multicandidate marathon. The clear strength and main objective of the book is Coombs's focus on media framing of the candidates, issues, factions, interest groups, and election outcomes. She emphasizes that her focus is on the media rather than the Republicans. Particularly noteworthy is her examination of the coverage of 'Tea Party' activists, 'establishment' operatives, traditional Republicans, and 'conservative' groups. Throughout the campaign, the media established and focused its attention on controversy, gaffs, and consistent personal attacks. These squabbles consistently trumped media coverage of issues. Coombs's findings are based on a content analysis of 6,615 articles and transcripts of 'mainstream media' coverage of the Republican presidential candidate debates and primaries. These were the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post plus transcripts from three cable news networks--CNN, Fox Network, and MSNBC. This will make a nice addition to all libraries. It is well written overall and not burdened by academic jargon. Summing Up: Recommended. All readership levels.

The saturation coverage of today’s presidential campaigns in all forms of media leaves many people doubting that after the votes are cast there is anything left to say or learn about a race. Danielle Sarver Coombs’ Last Man Standing proves the cynics wrong. Her detailed analysis of the 2012 drama (and its prologue and aftermath) is a model of both careful scholarship and novelistic pacing. It will satisfy the academic, student, journalist and interested lay reader with interesting unheralded but crucial details and incisive analysis.

David D. Perlmutter, Dean and Professor of the College of Media & Communication, Texas Tech University, and author of Blogwars: The New Political Battleground