Neil Cavuto: ‘I almost relish it when they dismiss us, when they say we’re going nowhere.’

By Merrill Knox 

Neil Cavuto, meet Kevin Costner.

“I think of it as like a ‘Field of Dreams’ thing,” says Cavuto as he prepares to anchor his fourth night of live political coverage (five if you count The State of the Union) this month. “If people see you’re serious, they will come. And every time, every caucus, every primary, every major speech, it creates buzz, it creates recognition.”

TVNewser spent a few hours with Cavuto before and during his FBN coverage of the Florida primary.

On this night, Cavuto’s unscripted, three hours of coverage begins with calling the race for Mitt Romney at 8pmET sharp — “and not a second before,” Cavuto’s executive producer Gary Schreier warns the control room.

Cavuto relies on his sense of humor to keep himself — and his staff, which this reporter was a part of for three years — energized on long political nights. Cavuto’s Iowa coverage went until 2:39am.

“I have to keep that in mind with Fox Business, because I think, what’s our added edge? What do we offer? Besides the fact that I think we have better graphics, and a better package, and all that. And we have me — far more handsome than Bret Baier. He hates to admit it, but it’s true,” Cavuto jokes.

During a commercial break, Cavuto chats with Melissa Francis, newly-hired from CNBC, who is keeping an eye on exit polls.

“I look at some of the stuff I did when I was at CNBC,” says Cavuto. “And I look like Eddie Munster on a bender.” The studio, normally silent during breaks, erupts into laughter.

Although FBN’s election coverage is longer and more comprehensive than its competitors’, Cavuto admits the network’s ratings on big news nights are “a work in progress.”

Cavuto was one of the original Fox News anchors, hired before the network’s launch in 1996 by Roger Ailes, with whom he worked at NBC. Many Fox personalities appear on both networks, but Cavuto is the only one to anchor a daily show, solo, on both FNC and FBN. So yesterday’s milestone — 10 years for Fox News on top of the cable ratings — was especially sweet.

“I’ve got to be very honest with you, and I’ve told Roger Ailes this: it was as if I had entered the witness protection program,” Cavuto says. “For years, no one knew where I had gone.”

Cavuto “remembers vividly” that Fox News was relatively anonymous for the first five years of its existence. He says that gives him a sense of context as he shapes Fox Business, which celebrates its fifth anniversary in October.

“I almost relish it when they dismiss us, when they say we’re going nowhere. Because once you’re on top, there’s a lot more pressure to maintain it,” he says.

“I may be a big guy, but no one’s going to out-hustle me,” Cavuto continues. “You might know the other guys as a better brand name, or know that they’re the institution, and all. Well, it wasn’t too long ago that I think the Green Bay Packers were the team to beat. History is littered with easy, sure, conventional bets.”

And in the news business, as in politics, the fight to the top is often a long one.

“I was doing the math,” Cavuto says, shuffling through his notes. “You need 1,144 delegates to be the nominee. With a win tonight, Romney’s at 87 delegates. So I’m thinking, 87. 1,144. We’re a long way from done. A long way.”