Live from the campaign battlefield

The candidates are tired, the volunteers are tired, the voters are tired – hell, even my dog is tired of all the drama.  After what felt like an endless campaign, Election Day is finally upon us.  The overwhelming numbers of headlines, photos and live broadcasts will finally come to an end.  Do you know who’s even happier about that than you are?  The people following Clinton and Trump every step of the way and filling notebook after notebook with shorthand.  The people standing behind the camera, holding the microphone, reporting every word they hear.  You seldom notice or think about these people, but they are your eyes and ears on the campaign battlefield.  They observe, they inform, they educate.  And trust me, they are far more tired than you.

 

Phillip Mattingly has spent the last 18 months away from his family, following the presidential candidates across 40 different states.  He is a New York-based correspondent for CNN and has been covering the campaigns since the early primaries.  Mattingly started by reporting on Republican nomination contenders Chris Christie and John Kasich, then moved on to Donald Trump and covered him for six months, until he recently received his latest assignment – Hillary Clinton.

“It’s a crescendo of sorts, right? You’re taking everything you have done up to that point and trying to compile it together to be able to tell the most accurate and timely story you can.”

Mattingly enjoys being able to cover the biggest story everybody’s been focused on this past year.  Most of all, he is grateful that, unlike most people whose opinions are defined by the headlines, he gets a raw insight into real political attitudes across the whole country.

“You get out of your bubble, you get out of the office, you talk to actual voters and volunteers – people on the ground. … It sounds kind of idealistic, but it makes you feel good that people care that much.”

So, where is he going to be on Election Night?

“That’s a good question,” he laughs.

“Election Night is a little bit up in the air, you know, Hillary Clinton has a big rally in New York, but there’s also a good chance that I’ll be in a swing state as well.”

Can he tell me where he will be two days from now then?

“You don’t know where the candidates are going to be much further than two or three days in advance. … All I know right now, is that tomorrow I’m going to be in North Carolina, to meet Hillary Clinton there.”

This means Mattingly often needs to write articles and prepare packages on the road.  However, despite the exhaustion, the deadlines and the long miles, he realises he’s been given the opportunity to witness history in the making.

“On Friday, we were on Hillary Clinton’s plane when the news of the FBI letter broke, and the plane’s Wi-Fi wasn’t working. … At the same exact time as we were starting to land, everybody’s iPhones just started going nuts. … You get to sit back and think, ‘Okay, I’m tired right now, but how cool is it that I get to be involved in this?’”

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While the national spotlight is on the presidential and on congressional candidates, regional media outlets – such as Channel 6 Lawrence – are busy with local and state elections too.  Furthermore, Kansans will also vote on a proposed state constitutional amendment crucial to their fishing and hunting rights, as well as whether to retain their judges in the Kansas Supreme Court and the Kansas Court of Appeals.

Stefanie Bryant – the channel’s news director and anchor – loves the challenge and the “immediacy of the day.” She will spend Election Day delivering all the necessary information about the ongoing events to her audience.

“I will be here – at Channel 6 – making sure we have local coverage as voters head to the polls when they first open and close.  I’ll make sure the staff has everything they need to tell stories.  I’ll anchor the 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. newscasts and anchor our election special that begins at 7:30 p.m. when the polls close.”

While journalists spread the candidates’ message to the public, press officers help them construct it.  Johanna Maska is a marketing and communications executive who worked for President Obama during his 2008 campaign.  In only seven months, she drove some 30,000 miles across Iowa setting up speaker sets and podiums.

On Election Day, Maska was then-Sen. Obama’s press lead and was responsible for “everything from press coverage to the minute-by-minute plans.” At the end of the night, she and her team were overwhelmed by what they had been a part of.

“My husband called when the Associated Press called Ohio for the president and said, ‘You’re with the next president of the United States.’  I had no idea what was ahead of me then.”

Maska eventually became the director of press advance for the White House, and travelled with President Obama to some 40 countries, 24 summits and more than 40 states during her time in the position.

Despite the campaigns being the most exhausting experiences in her life, she feels they gave her a “tremendous sense of purpose.”  In 2012, she was, once again, standing backstage with the president moments before he accepted the nomination.

“I was grateful. I had always believed in this leader – and I wanted him to have more time.”

So … the job was done, right?  Not at the slightest.  After Election Day, there are still countless headlines to be printed, many news stories to be discovered and a lot of work to be done.  However, there’s something even more pressing which needs to be taken care of first.  As Maska recalls, “I stopped in Galesburg, Illinois – my hometown – on my way home to see my parents.  And I think I slept for a week straight.”