Democracy lives in the video age

An unheralded bright spot has turned up in the continuing analysis of last fall's US elections. It is that the 80 new members of the House of Representatives were not the media-made candidates deplored by the pundits. Most of them defied the domineering presence of TV, or couldn't afford much of it. Instead, they turned to the grass-roots, press-the-flesh campaigning whose demise now appears to have been prematurely lamented.

Not that the lure of television as a campaign platform has suddenly faded out. Nor has its inflationary impact on campaign spending. There is plenty of reason for the recent warnings about the excessive influence of money as candidates compete for more and more. This in the face of efforts to control election financing.

But the old-fashioned personal campaigning by the House's freshman class could be a word to the wise even for statewide or national candidates who place more reliance on TV.

For instance, TV does not have to be used for the cynical packaging of candidates according to media-consultant criteria. There does not have to be the appeal to fear, for example, which was acknowledged by some packagers last year. TV can be used simply to spread more widely a genuine image of the candidates and their views, as voters might encounter them face to face.

The interesting thing is that, even in a media-saturated time, a congressional district of more than half a million people can still be organized and captured precinct by precinct. This view appears to be a common thread among the new grass-roots campaigners, according to the Congressional Quarterly. It cites chapter and verse on how they did it:

Ohio Republican John Kasich declared he was ''walking his way to Congress'' and rang doorbells as he had done in a campaign for the state legislature.

West Virginia Democrat Bob Wise marshaled a network of volunteers that helped him win 60 percent of the vote with overall spending of less than $200,000.

Several candidates with strong local organization survived late media onslaughts by better-heeled opponents.

The beauty of a free country is that campaigners can choose their means, including the latest technology. The good news is that hands-on democracy still seems to have a future in the age of the tube.

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