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The Washington Post’s Dan Balz On Campaign ’14’s Final 24 Hours

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The Washington Post’s Dan Balz opened the second hour of today’s show:

Audio:

11-03balz

Transcript:

HH: On Election Eve, and in studio with me, Guy P. Benson, a Fox News contributor, political editor of Townhall.com. And on the phone with us, senior national correspondent for the Washington Post, Dan Balz. Welcome back to the program. Guy joins me in saying a happy Election Eve to you.

DB: Same to both of you.

HH: Let me ask first of all, the Washington Post has put up a model. I think it said that there’s a 98.9% chance of the Republicans holding the House. Going out on a limb there with your statisticians, aren’t we?

DB: I thought we were over a hundred at this point.

HH: Dan, the first…

DB: Hugh, they have a secret sauce.

HH: I want to ask the breaking news of the hour, which is in North Carolina, the Fox affiliate down there is running stories that Kay Hagan is being investigated by the Department of Natural Resources there for her family business receiving stimulus. Can a story that breaks this late have much of an impact on the election?

DB: I would think not, I think for two reasons. One, a lot of people have already voted. Two, people are often rightly skeptical of stories like that that break very late, kind of like hmm, why did that happen right now. And third, a lot of people may not catch up with that story until sometime tomorrow. So you know, a story like that (has to be significant, well-sourced, clearly has the goods, and it has to be done usually earlier.

HH: All right, now the other story that broke today which got a lot of play is this bit of audio from Senator Tom Harkin out on the campaign trail. Let me play it, cut number 9.

TH: In this Senate race, I’ve been watching some of these ads. And there’s sort of this sense that, ‘Well, I hear so much about Joni Ernst. She is really attractive, and she sounds nice. I don’t care if she’s as good looking as Taylor Swift or as nice as Mr. Rogers, but if she votes like Michele Bachmann, she’s wrong for the state of Iowa.

HH: So Dan Balz, Tom Harkins says if Joni Ernst is really attractive, she’s as good-looking at Taylor Swift, as nice as Mr. Rogers, but if she votes like Michele Bachmann, she’s not for Iowa. That’s gone everywhere. Does that matter?

DB: A little bit, but Iowa is also in the same place as North Carolina – lots of early vote. Harkin has, I think, come out and said he regretted saying what he said. But it has gotten a lot of attention, and it’s an embarrassing comment for him to have to walk back on the eve of the election.

GB: Dan, I want to go back to the Tillis-Hagan race and that story that is breaking in the mainstream media today, basically. Setting aside whether or not it will make a difference at the 11th hour here, do you think an incumbent senator under investigation by state officials for a possible conflict of interest involving her family being enriched, is that a newsworthy story in the abstract?

DB: Yes, in the abstract, it’s a newsworthy story.

GB: Okay, and the reason I asked that is because this is a story that a conservative outlet, the Carolina Journal, has been really going after very hard for weeks now. And the mainstream media has absolutely refused to cover it. The Charlotte Observer ran a story a few days ago, and then it mysteriously disappeared off of their website. It never appeared in print. Now it’s finally, the day before the election, and one mainstream media source is picking up on this, and it has been confirmed by the state officials that the investigation is underway. So I understand what you’re saying, and I actually agree with your analysis that something dropping this late looks suspicious to a lot of voters. And they’ve already voted, and so it might not have a big impact. But don’t you think there’s a question here for the media in the state of North Carolina, having chosen to ignore this story for weeks? Couldn’t it have had an effect if they began reporting and starting really digging into weeks ago when it first started to percolate?

DB: You know, it’s been sort of in the air down there. And if you’re reading about the race, you know that there is something kind of floating around about this. I honestly don’t know enough about why other news organizations down there did not choose to dig into it, because it does seem like a legitimate story. And I think the papers down there, the news organizations, tend to be pretty good, solid operations. So I don’t know enough about why it didn’t get the attention that it may deserve to get, or should have gotten at an earlier point.

GB: So let me ask you this, and I know this is a hypothetical, and I think that’s a really strong answer that you just gave. I’m just saying that let’s say you were running the newsroom in Raleigh or in Charlotte or something like that down there, and this story came across your desk, and there was some actual evidence coming across as well, and the story kept building, and the Hagan people are saying we consulted lawyers. If you were the editor-in-chief down there, would you have chosen to pursue this story more aggressively than the state media apparently has?

DB: You know, it is, I hate to sound like a politician. It is a hypothetical, and I don’t know enough about the particulars of that to make that call.

HH: It’s okay to sound, you know, Dan Balz, I am with a lot of hypothetical non-answers myself on the trail, but here’s a non-hypothetical.

DB: All right.

HH: This is just having watched for years. The early voting, Cory Gardner is coming up after the break. He’s won Colorado. If we look at the numbers, it looks like Cory Gardner’s won. But if something happened today, if Cory Gardner came out and said something crazy today, or North Carolina, if this proved to be true, the Department of Natural Resources story gets published in full and Kay Hagan’s got $300,000 grand in her pockets, isn’t early voting bad because it allows people, voters don’t get the whole story?

DB: Well, no, I don’t think early voting is bad. I think anything that is designed to get as many people to the polls in an easy a way as possible is probably good. It does change the nature of messaging in campaigns, as all campaigns, if they haven’t already learned it, have begun to learn it. And that also does affect the power of so-called earned media and the timing of it. But you know, that’s the world in which we live now, and I think that early voting, you know, I think it’s only going to grow. And it’s really up to campaigns to figure out how to take most advantage of that. I mean, there are a lot of campaigns that think about when do we do most of our advertising, and I know we are seeing a ton of advertising in these battleground states even now. But a lot of it is wasted money, as we know. In terms of coverage, you know, this is, you can never predict when something’s going to pop up. And I know news organizations wrestle with these questions when things come in over the transom very late, or when oppo researchers show up with things very late, that you know, you have to weigh a lot of considerations in knowing what to do. So you know, it’s an imperfect process. But I don’t think this argues against early voting.

GB: Although, are there…

DB: But I want to go back to Colorado for a minute.

HH: Oh, please.

DB: …only because I just talked to somebody out there not more than an hour ago. At this point, based on the early vote, Gardner looks to be in pretty good shape. But there is apparently still some of that early vote that hasn’t been reported, and I think that the Democrats are still looking at with some hope because of some of the places that haven’t reported a lot, which are like Denver, I guess and Boulder, this is what I was told, that that margin which is in the neighborhood of 8 points, you know, if it shrinks to five or six, or five, then Udall, you know, then Udall may have an opportunity.

HH: You know, Dan, they didn’t count on the effect of most of Boulder being stoned all the time when they passed that initiative. That’s why all those things are going to come in late. You know, we’re on the air…

DB: It’s a dangerous place to be a reporter these days, you know?

HH: We’re on the air on 94.5 down in South Carolina, so he have a huge North Carolina audience in Ashville and Charlotte. We’ve got a 100,000 watt blowtorch down there, so I’m covering this a little bit more. I think actually a late-breaking story that can get social media traction has a lot more power than it did even six years ago, that people are tweeting about the Hagan stimulus story. It’ll be interesting to watch to see if they will, exit polling’s got a dirty word, if anyone will note that stimulus story in the exit polls?

DB: Well, I don’t know, and I have not seen the exit poll questionnaire for the state. But if it’s not asked about, people probably won’t mention it. You know what I mean?

HH: Yup.

DB: People will be asked about the issues that really made a difference in their vote, but I think they get a choice of issues. It’s not totally open-ended. I don’t know that for sure, because I haven’t looked at that questionnaire. If you’re not asked about something, you’re not going to mention it. But I think you’re right that social media today makes it more possible for a story like that to get attention.

GB: Dan, I wanted to circle back briefly to early voting. In the state of Ohio in 2012, early voting started before the first presidential debate, before the first two candidates were ever on stage together. Should there be some limit in terms of being reasonable to where early voting can, should commence?

DB: Well, you probably don’t want to start early voting in June. But the first debate was October 3rd, as I recall. And Ohio has had a very lengthy early voting period. Even though it started a little bit before the debate, and I hadn’t recalled that, you know, it’s not as though elections are short in this country. By the time you get to October of a presidential election year, most people who have paid any attention probably know reasonably well what they’re going to do and why. And people who haven’t aren’t likely to vote at the very first opportunity, even before a presidential debate.

HH: That’s the voice of experience…

DB: They haven’t showed much attention, they’re going to probably watch the debates and then vote.

HH: That’s the voice of experience. Dan Balz of the Washington Post, Dan, thank you. We’ll talk to you after the election.

End of interview.

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