We have filed more than 400 posts on U.S. presidential, state, and local politics over the past 12 months. It’s been an incredible experience as journalists, educators, and citizens. We’re now going to take a break, but we’ll be back in four years for the next presidential rodeo.
Nearly one year ago, on Jan. 14, I boarded an airplane with three University of Washington students and headed across the country. Our mission was epic: to spend a week on the ground reporting on the South Carolina 2012 Republican Party presidential primary. It was our first gig for UW Election Eye, a new blog partnership of the UW’s Department of Communication and The Seattle Times.
One week later I had a pretty good idea who was going to win the 2012 presidential election. Arizona congressional representative Trent Franks told me so.
Franks, one of the nation’s most conservative congressional members and a favorite of the tea party movement, was standing by Newt Gingrich’s bus as Gingrich spoke to supporters in his last stop of the state’s primary. A few hours later Gingrich would win his first statewide race in his life — a double-digit victory over Mitt Romney that upended the Republican primary for a time.
Franks was one of the few members of Congress to endorse Gingrich. A former speaker of the House of Representatives, Gingrich does not have many friends in high political places these days. But Franks is one of them, and he was traveling with Gingrich on the campaign trail.
I spoke with Franks for 10 minutes while Gingrich held court inside a restaurant. Franks told me why he supported Gingrich and why Barack Obama had to be defeated. I thanked him for talking with me and turned to walk away.
That’s when Franks surprised me.
He took hold of my arm and said, “Hold on, I’ve got one more thing to say.” I was listening. He stretched out his index finger and said “The 1 percent. We hear a lot about the 99 percent and the 1 percent. Mitt Romney is a caricature of the 1 percent — rich, out of touch, doesn’t understand most of America. If Republicans nominate Romney in the midst of this terrible economic time, we’re going to lose. That’s why I’m here. We will lose if we pick Romney.”
That’s when I knew: If a diehard conservative, a red-blooded Republican who would do anything to get rid of Obama, thought Romney couldn’t win, then Romney almost certainly wouldn’t win.
That moment is one I’ll not forget. It was one of the hundreds of up-close-and-personal experiences, all over America, that defined UW Election Eye.
After South Carolina, we covered the Republican primaries in Nevada, Colorado and Washington State. No other news outlet had more reporters on the ground than us. We were UW students and faculty, working with Times editors, and in Colorado in February we were the first to report Rick Santorum’s upset victory — beating the New York Times and CNN. Just sayin’.
We then expanded to cover other compelling moments on the national political stage. We went to North Carolina in April to report on the state’s decision whether to pass a Constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, which it did. We spent several days in Indiana in May watching conservative tea party activists propel Richard Mourdock over six-term U.S. Senator Dick Lugar in the Republican Party Senate primary, a decision that would later help to cost the GOP control of the U.S. Senate in November. We spent early June in Wisconsin immersed in the recall election faced by Governor Scott Walker. In September we traveled to the Democratic National Convention in North Carolina. All told, we wrote datelined stories from 18 states.
Along the way, almost 50 UW students and three faculty contributed to Election Eye. The students were members of the Communication undergraduate program, our Master of Communication in Digital Media program, and our Ph.D. program. The Election Eye team made regular appearances on KUOW and KCTS, and we learned a great deal from the superb Times team.
It has been one of the most compelling experiences I have had in 14 years as a faculty member at UW. It is an unbelievable privilege to work with talented, ambitious students who push themselves to the wall in order to report on, understand, and critique politicians, issues and ideas in the service of democracy. It’s one thing to read about politics. It’s another thing to be asking the questions, doing the research, taking and editing the video, and pinpointing the valuable spaces.
All of this was possible because of the generosity of a supporter of the Communication program, who provided a financial gift to cover the costs. This supporter wanted students to have the chance to see candidates, voters, and other parts of America up close. Support also was provided by CityClub.
For the students and faculty who have been involved from the get-go, it has been transformational. Thank you to The Times for partnering with us, and to our readers for sharing the journey with us.
And now it’s time to close up shop, for a four-year hiatus. We have other big projects to take on in coming months. But we will be back, bigger and better in 2016 — to cover two presidential primaries, for both Republicans and Democrats. Hillary and Jeb, we’re looking at you.