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GOP Rules Talk-Show Circuit

Republicans appear to have owned the morning news cycle in 2011.

If you were watching the major Sunday morning talk shows last year, your odds of seeing a Republican Member of Congress in the guest chair were far greater than seeing a Democratic Member of Congress.

GOP lawmakers appeared on the Sunday shows nearly twice as often as Democratic lawmakers in 2011, a dominance far greater than the prior two years, according to a Roll Call database of Members’ television appearances.

Roll Call’s “Face Time” feature has for many years tracked appearances of Members of Congress on five major Sunday talk shows: “Face the Nation” on CBS, NBC’s “Meet the Press,” ABC’s “This Week,” CNN’s “State of the Union” and “Fox News Sunday.”

In 2009 and 2010, Republican Members held a small advantage over Democratic Members in appearances on these programs, getting 52 percent of the invites in both years. In both years, CBS had more Democrats as guests than Republicans by a narrow margin; in the same period, Fox News had more Republican guests by a wider margin.

But in 2011, the GOP lawmakers captured 64 percent of the Congressional appearances on the five shows that Roll Call tracks, and every network featured more Republican lawmakers than Democrats. Of 330 Congressional appearances tallied by Roll Call last year, 210 went to Republicans and only 120 went to Democrats — fewer if you subtract the eight appearances made by Sen. Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut Independent who caucuses with Democrats.

The trend plays out in each network as well as in aggregate. For example, in 2009, CNN’s “State of the Union” featured Republican Members of Congress 43 times and Democrats 41 times, plus three by Democratic-leaning Independent Sens. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) and Lieberman. In 2010, the show had 35 Democratic lawmaker appearances, Lieberman was on twice and Republican Members appeared 28 times. But in 2011, the numbers flipped, with 51 Republican appearances, 28 Democrats and three visits by Lieberman.

Sources at CNN and ABC point out that Roll Call’s tally counts only Members of Congress; the shows generally achieve a partisan balance by inviting members of the Democratic administration — or President Barack Obama’s campaign apparatus — to counter the appearances of Republican lawmakers who are the newsmakers in Congress.

A change in the partisan balance of talk-show guests overall may simply be a reflection of news value. Michael Shanahan, assistant director of the George Washington University School of Media and Public Affairs, said, “Democrats aren’t all that interesting.”

The major players in politics last year were Republicans, who captured control of the House and drove a dramatic debate over spending cuts and debt. “Really, who were the actors in this drama? Republicans,” Shanahan said.

Some of the Republican TV gains in 2011 are clearly connected to the tumultuous GOP presidential primary season. Rep. Michele Bachmann made no Sunday show appearances in 2009 and only two in 2010, but last year the Minnesota Republican and short-term presidential hopeful made 20 appearances on these programs, topping the list for all Congressional talkers.

Likewise, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) joined the presidential field last year and made nine appearances on the Sunday shows. In the two years prior, he had not been a Sunday guest even once.

But other changes in the partisan balance appear to have nothing to do with the campaign. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), author of a controversial plan to balance the budget in part by reforming Medicare, made 13 appearances on Sunday shows last year, appearing on each network at least once. A year prior, Ryan had made only five Sunday appearances, all on Fox News.

Prominent Democrats from prior years also slipped from the ranks of top talkers in 2011.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.) made 14 Sunday show appearances in 2010, when he was head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, but he left that job and made only six appearances in 2011. His replacement at the DCCC, Rep. Steve Israel (N.Y.), made only one Sunday show visit last year, by Roll Call’s count.

Sen. Bob Menendez (N.J.), who headed the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in 2010, made nine Sunday show visits that year. Last year, he made none, and his replacement at the DSCC, Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.), made only two appearances. Murray and Van Hollen were both members of the Congressional super committee in 2011 and were limited in what they could say publicly about the pursuit of a grand bargain to cut more than $1 trillion from the deficit.

Some Sunday show traditions maintain, however. Three Republican Senators and one Democrat have been among the top 10 talkers each of the past three years: Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).

Among them, McConnell, McCain and Graham made 251 appearances on the Sunday shows from the start of 2006 through last year. The top three Democratic talkers in the same period — Durbin, Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y) and then-Sen. Joseph Biden (Del.) — made a total of 155 appearances, according to the Roll Call tally.

Ryan Loskarn, staff director for the Senate Republican Conference, said getting more exposure on the Sunday shows is not irrelevant. “It matters when a person can turn on a television and see a Republican with a good message,” Loskarn said.

The number of TV hits is a kind of measure of the enthusiasm of the caucus to go out and advance the party’s message, he said, and the predominance of GOP Members last year shows “Republicans in Congress were far more fired up and energetic.”

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