The Iowa caucuses are tomorrow night, and I'll be covering them for NPR. I'll be at the Hillary Clinton caucus night party reporting live, then racing off to catch a plane (in a blizzard!!) to New Hampshire. Yes, this is my job, but it's also something I've been dreaming about since I was a preteen obsessed with the MTV News coverage of the 1992 presidential race.
And it's only taken me six election cycles to get here!
In 2000, I was a graduate student at UC Berkeley and went to Florida the week before the election, attending campaign events with a classmate and writing about them. The highlight was a college Republicans event with George P. Bush. It was almost like being a real campaign reporter, but not quite.
In 2004, I was living in Columbus, OH working for WOSU and was able to cover the race between George W. Bush and John Kerry as a local reporter. Actually, I was a $10-an-hour part time temp reporter. After the election was over I did stories about the allocation of voting machines and long lines to vote in predominantly African American neighborhoods in Franklin County.
During that year, I got my first brush with NPR's political reporting team. I helped gather tape for Mara Liasson at a Bush volunteer office. And on the last weekend before voting, I followed Kerry on his campaign bus tour. I was on the bus for local press. Don Gonyea was on the bus for national media. We met in a filing center, and I was in awe of him as he pulled out his laptop and filed with ease. He was SO nice and encouraging.
On election night 2004, I covered the results of local elections for school board or something. I don't actually remember what I was covering, but I do remember I was wearing red velvet pants. Memory is such a strange thing.
I got home around one in the morning, and just as my head hit the pillow, the phone rang. It was an editor from NPR. The race wasn't decided yet. America was waiting on the results from Ohio and they were still coming in. The NPR reporter based in Ohio that night needed a few hours of sleep, so the editor asked me to go sit outside the Secretary of State's office waiting for those final returns.
So, I put my red velvet pants back on and drove over to the Secretary of State's office to camp out. Sometime around five or six AM, the results were in and it was clear Kerry couldn't win. The election was decided. I called NPR headquarters to give them the news and within minutes I was live on the air being interviewed by Steve Inskeep.
When Steve asked me how Ohioans were feeling, I had no clue. After all, it was still dark out and I had been at the Secretary of State's office all night. I haven't had the heart to go back and listen to it because I suspect I would not be proud. But at the time, I felt like I had made the big leagues.
Now it is kind of crazy to think I'm working right along with Don and Mara and Steve Inskeep no longer frightens me. I'd even know how to dance away from his question about the mood of Ohioans.
I'm here in Iowa, covering my first caucuses. And I am SO excited. I'm also exhausted and I miss my family terribly (like I have to work really hard not to cry when I read my son his bedtime story over facetime). But this is it. This is living the dream.