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What Is Media's Role Going to Be on Election Night?

Aired November 3, 2002 - 08:35   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Midterm election just a few days away. The bunting is hung. We want to take a closer look at some of the key races now and talk a little about the media's role in all of this. CNN senior political correspondent Candy Crowley joining us from New York. I'm so confused, I'm in Washington, she's in New York. We don't know why.

O'BRIEN: It's very exciting, isn't it?

Tell you what, I know your assignment of the day is to talk about the media and how the media will be calling or not calling races. We haven't talked a lot about that, but you might say that in the election 2000, we were unindicted co-conspirators in that mess, maybe worse. Have we figured out a way to make ourselves not have egg on our face come the wee hours of the morning Wednesday?

CROWLEY: Yes. Let's not deal (ph) on past unpleasantries here.


There were some things that were going to be put in place, some updating of the computer systems. There's an entity known as the Voter News Service.

O'BRIEN: Oh, we know about that.

CROWLEY: And the Voter News Service is generally -- it's a consortium that the networks put together, and they take literally layers of data and fit it into a mathematical formula. And they come up with probabilities, and that's essentially how you call races, but there are many, many layers of this. Begins with exit polls, and then it becomes precinct votes that are called in from certain precincts.

CNN has added another layer of people out in the field that will be calling in votes, so that there's really sort of a check system. So if one -- if VNS hands the raw data to the networks and the VNS data looks one way and the CNN data maybe says, gee, not so fast, there won't be a call. I think what you're going to see are probably slower calls in these very tight races, of which there are many. I think you will see much more cautiousness in this, but you will also see essentially what was going on before.

I mean, I will tell you that those who do this for a living and actually understand mathematical probability will tell you that Florida was a perfect storm in some ways, that a lot of things came together.

And one of the things that happened was absentee voting. This has become increasingly a way that Americans vote, and so more has been put into their samples about absentee voting in certain states, to bring them even closer to the truth.

So, yes, they have some differences in the way VNS is going to do some of its things, and as well CNN is adding this extra layer of people out there.

O'BRIEN: But just to be clear, because a lot of folks up until 2000 didn't know that the networks actually shared information. There still will be this VNS, this kind of consortium, that shares the raw data. It's just that CNN is adding a different layer -- I assume the other networks are doing the same.

CROWLEY: I think the other networks are not adding other people out in the field, actually, although I don't want to speak for the other networks. But CNN is definitely doing that. VNS is still absolutely there. It has not a new system in place, but new safeguards in place. And I think, you know, as they point out, they've had a pretty good track record for a very long time.

Was this a mistake? Yes. And they nod their heads. And -- but they also point to the fact that it's had a great track record. And it's not tea leaf reading, and it's not the Ouija board, it really is based on that mathematical probability class that all of us skipped.

O'BRIEN: All right, we have successfully digressed deep into other areas, but I was curious about that. So let's talk briefly, what's your favorite race, Candy? You've covered them all at this point. What's the one you're going to be watching the most? I know that's a tough one. There's a lot of good ones out there.

CROWLEY: You know, there really are. I like the emotional races, and by that I mean there is so much at stake in Texas. The Senate race there, which looks to be fairly close. That, of course, is George Bush's home state. You know the Democrats would absolutely love for Ron Kirk to win, and Ron Kirk, former mayor of Houston, dynamic candidate. John Cornyn is a friend of George Bush's. Cornyn's been ahead in the polls, but you know what? Turnout, turnout, turnout -- so we will see.

Other races -- I love South Dakota. Why do I love that? Well, gee, it's Tom Daschle's home state. He has a candidate, Tim Johnson, that he's backing, and the president has John Thune, who he really hand-picked and said, run against Tim Johnson, who is the sitting senator. A toss-up race. A great race.

O'BRIEN: Great proxy race, isn't it?

CROWLEY: Well, absolutely. I mean, you know, but I have to tell you just so that South Dakota doesn't call, the fact of the matter is that out there they really don't say oh, gee, this is Daschle against Bush. Out there, they go what about drought relief and what about this and what about -- so it isn't to them, but it's an interesting race to us because a lot of attention has been paid to that state by both Daschle and Bush.

And how can you forget Florida? I love Florida. I mean, you know, this is a political reporter's dream in a lot of ways. The brother of the president, a really important state being challenged by a guy who has never run for office before. I mean, he's -- it's just a great race. And McBride slayed the first dragon, Janet Reno. Everybody thought she would win in the primary, and you know what? He won steadily. And look here, guess who comes down a lot.

I mean, you can tell that this really, you know, the central part of the race for both Democrats and Republicans. First of all, by how often George Bush has been down there, but also this weekend in that state, President Bush, former President Clinton for McBride, and Al Gore. So it's gotten a lot of attention.

So you know, I like the excitement and I like the sort of people- to-people thing and the kind of underpinnings of it, the emotional underpinnings. So those are my three favorites.

O'BRIEN: All right, one quick thing from you before you get away. We're just about of time, but you know, you reminded me when you talk about South Dakota, Tip O'Neill's famous statement, "all politics is local." We in the media tend to try to lump all these races together, draw some, you know, deep sort of symbolism, talk about how people are trying to create a check and balance of the executive to legislative. The bottom line is they are concerned about local issues, aren't they?

CROWLEY: They are. There's always national -- there are going to be national implications to the totality of these races -- look, it's going to decide the balance of power, blah, blah, blah, you know, what George Bush gets -- we've all talked about that. So there is clearly national implications, but it doesn't seem to be a national theme.

I would go to state after state after state in the middle, in the heat of the Iraq campaign and say, so you know, is Iraq out here? And they say, no, actually they asked me about jobs, or really they asked me about Social Security. So in no states, either Republicans or Democrats, did I find them spending a good deal of time on Iraq.

There were some exceptions -- before Senator Wellstone tragically died in that plane crash, his vote against Iraq had come into play in that race, and not negatively, by the way. I mean, it spurred on his supporters. But basically, it's really the same thing. Economics. In some states, it's job, in other states, you know, in some sections, it's portfolios, that kind of thing. So (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

O'BRIEN: All right. It's the economy, stupid, and it's local. All right, Candy Crowley, always a pleasure chatting with you.


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