Yup -- that's the function of many focus groups: to blow the candidate or the campaign committee out of their complacent fantasies and show them how ordinary, unconcerned voters respond to their favorite arguments or turns of phrase. Depending on how out of touch they are, the experience can be shocking.
Shapiro's book is just what the title says, an account of the 2004 Democratic presidential field before any primary votes were cast, before Dean "screamed," before Kerry "voted for it before he voted against it," before Lieberman was revealed as a vengeful jackass. That story line seems ancient history. But this account of the nuts and bolts of a Democratic pre-pre-primary (such as we may see in 2016) is still great fun if you like that sort of thing.
Shapiro is not much of a fan of "issues" as the deciding factor in why people make candidate choices (and my experience runs in the same vein.) Thus we get this:
During the primaries we're searching for glimpses of what we call "character." Perhaps that insight says something about the current phenomenon of people warming to Mitt Romney less over time, the more they see of him.
Shapiro is not only insightful, he's thoughtful. I hadn't noticed this about horserace journalism:
He further points out that parental deaths tend to occur in the age group of these aspirants and that it can mark a real life change for mature adults. But about this one very human passage, we seldom practice our accustomed political voyeurism.
I suspect that Shapiro was not surprised by President Obama's difficult relationship with much of the Democratic electorate. Back in 2003, he described what he sees as a recurrent theme among Democrats:
No, Obama didn't fulfill our hopes either -- and I've read enough of the history of FDR to know that the populist left nipped at this heels throughout his presidency. We want a fairer, more caring country and we don't give up.
But One Car Caravan is something more than wise; it's fun. I'd go a long way to read a fellow who describes the profession of political journalism like this:
You can read Shapiro's 2012 horserace coverage at The New Republic.