Sniper Coverage Drowns out Politicians; Party Activists See Public Distracted from elections.(NATION)

Article excerpt

Byline: Donald Lambro, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The sniper shootings that have dominated network news also are cutting into their national election coverage, and that could affect voter turnout, some party officials said yesterday.

"To the extent that people take their cues from the national news in terms of how important the elections are, it could have a suppressive effect," said John Hancock, executive director for the Missouri Republican Party.

He said the Nov. 5 midterm elections probably would be getting a lot more attention, especially since "we're going to elect a Senate and 34 governors," if not for the deadly attacks in Washington that began Oct. 2.

"It is becoming harder and harder to crash through Iraq, the sniper attacks and fears over terrorism in the competition for people's total attention," said Joe Kyrillos, New Jersey Republican chairman.

National party officials said that the networks' coverage of the hunt for the sniper has not affected what the candidates are talking about and what voters are most concerned about - the economy, Social Security and prescription-drug benefits.

"The coverage inside the Beltway is very different from coverage outside the Beltway. You have a lot more coverage about what's happening to the economy, local job layoffs and pensions," said Maria Cardona, spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee.

"This all comes down to what people are fearing, regardless of the media coverage here," she said.

Jim Dyke, spokesman for the Republican National Committee, said candidates are focusing on what voters are asking about and should not be negatively affected by the lack of coverage.

"As far as the coverage goes, I wouldn't think that it has an impact on the elections. …