Dana Bash Says Her Lesson for 2020 Is: ‘Trust What I See and Hear on the Ground Talking to Voters as Much as the Data in National Polls’

By A.J. Katz Comment

For our new bimonthly feature for 2020, TVNewser is speaking with veteran political reporters from across the TV news spectrum about their presidential election memories.

We’re calling this feature, The TVNewser Notebook.

Fox News chief political anchor Bret Baier kicked things off for us last month, and Noticiero Telemundo anchor José Díaz-Balart followed earlier this month.

Next, we have CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash providing us with her election coverage memories.

Bash has called CNN home since 1993. She started as Library Assistant in the DC bureau, and steadily moved up the ranks at CNN, becoming an expert in all issues pertaining to Capitol Hill and the White House over a 27-year run at the network.

Bash was promoted to CNN chief political correspondent in 2015,  a role she currently holds.

TVNewser: Give us an interesting anecdote from the first presidential election you ever covered.

Bash: The first presidential election I covered was as a producer in 2000.  The idea of cell phones as a constant presence was relatively new. I had a flip phone, which I suppose didn’t have an easy “silence” button. I remember being at an event with then presidential candidate Al Gore and former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura, and my cell phone rang. Gore playfully interrupted himself mid-sentence and picked up my call. My senior producer/boss/editor Craig Broffman was calling me about some breaking news. The only reason Craig knew it wasn’t a prank, and it was really Gore on the phone, was because he was watching the feed come into the bureau live and saw what was happening. Quick on his feet, Craig started asking Gore questions about whatever news had just broken, which prompted the candidate to quickly hand me back the phone.

Is there anything you’ve learned from your previous election coverage that you’re taking into account as you cover this one?

You learn so much from every election you cover, but now – in 2020 – my lesson is to really trust the things I see and hear on the ground talking to voters as much as the data in national polls. I remember doing a story during the 2016 general election in North Carolina about whether Hillary Clinton could get young Bernie Sanders‘ supporters to come out for her. I found real reluctance.  As it turns out, Democratic voters staying home there helped give Donald Trump a victory. I went to the Philadelphia suburbs shortly after the Access Hollywood tape broke and talked to suburban women who said they didn’t care that much, especially those who had a visceral dislike for Hillary Clinton. That played out on Election Day 2016 too.

How has social media transformed how you cover presidential elections?

Social media has transformed how we cover presidential elections in every way. Candidates use it as a go-to form of communication with the press, their supporters and voters as a whole. It wasn’t that long ago that using social media to telegraph the basics of a campaign was unheard of, and now it’s the norm. As for reporters – most of us use social media as sort of a news wire service to stay in touch with what is happening in places we are not.

Who is one political reporter whose work you truly admire?

Dan Balz of the Washington Post is the first person who popped into my head. He is a dogged, indefatigable reporter, writer and story teller. What I admire about him is what he is missing – even the slightest bit of snark or bias. He tells it straight, and does it in a comprehensive “here’s what it all means” way that makes him a must-read for all of us.

What’s the best meal/restaurant you’ve had/been to during election coverage?

I love a relatively new restaurant called Clyde’s in Des Moines, Iowa. We interviewed Andrew and Evelyn Yang there for a story we did in the fall, but we didn’t get to eat because they aren’t open for lunch. We got there for dinner a few days before the caucuses and it was delicious.

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