The recent race to the White House was the third presidential campaign I’ve covered as the political reporter for WISC-TV. The first two had incredible moments—but this go-round, I had to say to myself: “Is this happening?” more than ever. Outside of the election results, here are some greatest hits.
Walker for President: Gov. Scott Walker’s run for president arguably started the moment he talked about “America” and “Washington” repeatedly in his 2014 gubernatorial acceptance speech. His fire burned hot for a few months—from a rousing speech in Iowa on a temperate January day in 2015 to the sweltering Waukesha County Expo Center announcement of his presidential campaign six months later, to the single-podium brief exit some 70 days later. I never thought I would cover a Wisconsin governor’s run for the nation’s highest office, and that I’d have a front-row seat.
The Trump Convention: In between the miles I walked with my photographer in Cleveland to and from the various convention centers, I had to remind myself to keep my jaw off the floor. The silhouetted, fog-machined Trump entering to “We Are The Champions.” Yelling on the convention floor as delegates tried to overthrow the Trump nomination. Sen. Ted Cruz bringing the crowd to loud “boos” when he refused to endorse Trump on stage (it was so much louder in person). And finally, giant gold letters proclaiming “TRUMP” behind the New York businessman as he accepted the nomination of a party that had in part shunned him months earlier. This was a convention where you had to expect the unexpected—which, after covering conventions that were choreographed to a T, was something reporters weren’t used to.
DNC Leaks, Bernie or Bust and the Clinton Convention: The Democrats should have looked like pros after the GOP convention in Cleveland. But instead, they were rocked by a Democratic National Committee email leak showing favoritism to Clinton (that led to the DNC chairwoman’s ouster before things ever started) and a crowd of delegates that insisted on supporting Sen. Bernie Sanders. (If only singer Paul Simon had come out earlier, we may have never heard comedian Sarah Silverman say, “Bernie or Bust people, you’re being ridiculous.”) But the moment that capped the convention was when Clinton became the first woman to accept the nomination of a major political party for president. I will remember the tears of the female delegates around me, the deafening cheers of the audience, and Clinton with her hand over her heart, appearing genuinely moved by the moment.
Wisconsin Matters: Wisconsin’s April 5 primary was a national focus for three weeks. Every presidential candidate still running (five of them) made Wisconsin a priority. I spoke to nearly all of them (Did you not get my calls Mr. Trump?), some multiple times (Sanders and I even chatted about cheese curds), some with particular requests (Cruz has a “good side” for his camera shots, Clinton’s folks took 40 minutes to set up a very specific backdrop) before that race. I also got to ask how these candidates viewed our state (Free college, Sen. Sanders? Muslim patrols, Sen. Cruz?) I prepared for all my interviews, and took seriously the feedback and criticism I got from viewers.
Independent Minded: One of the things I’ve always loved about covering state politics is that voters here are deliberate, thoughtful and discerning about who they’ll vote for. We’ve gotten a reputation as a “purple” state for good reason. And with unprecedented unpopularity of the candidates this year, Wisconsin voters didn’t just follow their party. In October, 12 percent of voters were either undecided or said they would vote for someone other than Clinton or Trump. As for those who were undecided, I think it isn’t such a bad thing. Choosing a president should take time and thought. Wisconsin voters thought about who they’d vote for and made a choice. And the rest is history.