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."