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Chris Wallace: Inside Super Tuesday

Posted by Kara Miller, Culture Club  March 6, 2012 09:01 AM

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wallace1_0_300.JPGThe political media has cooked up plenty of odd duos: Sean Hannity and Alan Colmes, Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough, Al Franken and Arianna Huffington (back when she was conservative).

But Fox News’ Chris Wallace referees what may be the oddest political match-up on air today: Karl Rove, George W. Bush’s longtime advisor, and Joe Trippi, Howard Dean’s 2004 campaign manager. “I’ve got the best job in the world,” Wallace says. “Rove and Trippi have forgotten more about politics than I’ll ever know.”

And tonight the three will hold court again, hashing through Super Tuesday results in what Wallace, unabashedly, refers to as the political junkie’s Super Bowl.

I talked with the Fox News Sunday host (who once served as NBC’s chief White House correspondent) about preparing for tonight’s coverage, why an “ugly win” is still a win, and what he’ll be doing tomorrow.

What do you have your eye on today?

I’ll be focusing on Ohio, which is enormously important. Blue collar, working class, lots of Catholics. A key state that Republicans may need to win the presidency. If Mitt Romney wins, he starts to separate himself. If Rick Santorum wins, we’re back to talk about Mitt Romney being a weak frontrunner.

The other state I’ll be looking at is Georgia. If Newt Gingrich can’t win, he may have to drop out. But, as we saw with Michigan, even an ugly three-point win is a win.

Why do people keep talking about the white-knight scenario, the idea that Chris Christie or Mitch Daniels or Jeb Bush will ride in to save the day?

Let’s say Mitt Romney had lost Michigan, his home state. Well, the conventional wisdom in the Republican Party would have been that Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum might not be able to beat Obama. And the Party thinks that Obama is vulnerable. If Rick Santorum beats Mitt Romney in some Super Tuesday contests, I think you’ll hear people bring that up again. People will talk about a contested convention

What are election days like at Fox News?

Actually, election days are the longest and most boring days of the campaign until 4 or 5 p.m., when you get exit polls. You wait and wait until 5, and then you are deluged with information. It’s like trying to drink out of a fire hose. If you’re a political junkie, it’s the Super Bowl.

I’ve got the best job in the world, running a panel with Karl Rove and Joe Trippi. They’ve forgotten more about politics that I’ll ever know. It’s particularly amazing to see Karl sit there and crunch the numbers.

What’s the most interesting statistic or bit of analysis that Rove has thrown at you so far this season?

Well, he links into the website of each state's Secretary of State. And he’ll look at individual precincts. He was able to do that on the night of the Michigan primary at about 9 p.m., and by 9:15 he knew Mitt Romney was going to win. The computer models didn’t figure that out for an hour and a half.

How do you prep for tonight? Social media? Favorite go-to websites?

Social media is an important way to get your message out there. I don’t do Twitter myself. Some people on our staff do it. But I’m certainly on the Internet a lot. There’s no way you can’t be - I look at everything from Politico to Fox News to Huffington Post to The Drudge Report.

We did a debate with Google, and, in the process, they were able to show us these amazing ways of measuring the economy in different states. You can see how often people search “foreclosure” or “mortgage refinancing,” for example.

If Mitt Romney emerges as the likely nominee tonight, what do you think the primary process has done to him - both good and bad?

I think it’s done a lot. It has strengthened him, toughened him up. He hasn’t sailed to the nomination but has had to fight for it.

And in a couple of cases - like Florida and Michigan - it has also brought up lines of attack that Democrats will certainly take advantage of in the fall.

What did you think of the media’s focus on Romney’s gaffes - like, for example, the picture of him at Ford Field? Did the press get off-topic by focusing on the fact that 80,000 people can fit in the stadium and only 1,200 came to see the candidate? Or is that a legitimate issue?

It wasn’t the biggest story coming out of that speech. He did announce a tax plan.
But look, to a certain degree, it hurt that his campaign had leaked out some of the details. And for the campaign to make that kind of basic, elementary gaffe was striking. It’s Advance Work 101. Get a small room and put a large crowd in it.

Tomorrow - after we leave Super Tuesday behind - you’ll pick up the Sol Taishoff award for Excellence in Broadcast Journalism from the National Press Foundation, which has been won by Tim Russert, Andrea Mitchell, and Jim Lehrer, among others. How do you feel about getting it?

It’s a big deal. “60 Minutes” has won it - and Ted Koppel, Charlie Gibson, Brit Hume. Quite frankly, some of the people I admire most in the business. To be invited to stand with those heavyweights means a lot. It really means a lot to me.


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About the author

Kara Miller is an Assistant Professor of English, specializing in journalism, at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. She also serves as a guest panelist on WGBH-TV's “Beat the Press” and contributes to 89.7 FM WGBH (NPR). More »

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