There’s no doubt that these midterm elections have ginned up more interest — and early voting — in a non-presidential election than any in recent memory. Taking note of the deeply divided environment and unpredictable results for 150 races for Congress and governorships, network TV will be increasing air time and deploying more correspondents than ever before to report on races.
NBC, for one, will start uninterrupted, in-depth coverage as polls begin to close at 8 pm. (MSNBC, of course, as well as NBC News Digital, will be supplementing the coverage.)
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NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt and Chuck Todd, Meet the Press moderator and NBC News Political Director, are heading up the network’s coverage along with Today’s Savannah Guthrie. Below, Holt and Todd share their thoughts on covering this election with TV Insider.
How is this midterm election different from others you’ve covered in the past?
Lester Holt: Typically, these midterm elections are referendums of the current administration, but more so in this one in that the president has made very clear as he’s been stumping for Republican candidates that a vote for them is a vote for him. That has certainly raised the level of interest and enthusiasm that you’re seeing in both Republican and Democratic voting.
Chuck Todd: We’re going to cross over 100 million voters for the first time ever in a midterm election. It’s possible, percentage-wise, this is the highest voter turnout for a midterm election since women got the right to vote.
Holt: The number of correspondents, the number of digital platforms, the hours on the air, it’s going to look like, in many ways, a Presidential Election Night. I think most people right now understand that this is a dog fight to control Congress, and that magic number of 23 [of seats flipped from GOP to Democrats) to win control of the House, will be the number that people are going to be looking at all night. We’re going to be very results-oriented and put them all in perspective. What does this mean if the Democrats take the House? Who controls the Senate and what does this mean going forward?
Besides immigration, what other top issues are driving this election?
Todd: Three issue are animating voters — none of them the economy. They seem to be yes, immigration, healthcare, and the president and his tone. If healthcare is their biggest concern, they’re voting Democratic; if immigration is number one, they’re voting Republican. If the president is up there, it could be because the voter wants to defend him, or that they want to send him a message in a way he won’t like receiving. We see both in our polling.
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Has a sitting president ever taken such control of a midseason election?
Todd: There’s no real precedent in the modern era. The closest parallel is with FDR in the '30s when he made the midterms about himself and, in some ways, that backfired on him.
Holt: Because of the [asylum-seeking] caravan coming this way, President Trump has directed the narrative, which I think is unique. We’ll find out on Election Day, but I think the president’s immigration rhetoric is falling on deaf ears to some — not necessarily his base — because the economy is doing well. There isn’t a perceived competition for jobs.
Is this an election that will reveal who America is at this point?
Holt: The expectation is that this election will mirror the sharp divisions in our country. If Republicans lose some seats in the house and lose control in the House, that may reflect how Americans feel about the president. From that standpoint, it would be a snapshot of where we are.
Todd: If the Republicans hold everything, I do think that we could see a radical change in how we conduct politics tonally, because it would make Democrats rethink everything about how they’ve gone about this. Just the reverse, if it turns into a huge Democratic night, then you will see Republicans start to have an internal conversation about do they want to be fully defined by a person, or something bigger. In that sense, that’s what is on the ballot. There are plenty of people who say politics is a blood sport, and there are others who say no, I don’t want politics to be a blood sport. And I think that idea is on the ballot as well.
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You’ve both observed a lot of campaigns. What’s the most surprising or perhaps worrisome this time?
Todd: I don’t think Lester and I got into this business to be treated like we’re political figures all of a sudden. That’s been a little disconcerting for those of us in what I would call the political press corps. The media has always been a punching bag for politicians, but it has been uncomfortable to be thrown into the debate. I only hold a pencil not a weapon.
Recently, I was talking to a woman on a bus who said, “Bless you, for being part of the free press.” What’s been the response you’ve gotten in this climate?
Holt: That happens to me on a daily basis. People stop and shake your hand and say thank you for asking the hard questions. It helps me get through the day.
Todd: I’m glad to see there are plenty of people who want a strong, independent press corps, and that’s very much heartening,
What’s new in your coverage of the midterm elections?
Holt: We’ll have a robust vote-watch team of deeply experienced, investigative and justice correspondents working on election security and monitoring improprieties.
Todd: We have more than 150 races for the House, Senate and governor that will be decided by 10 points or less. We have the ability to drill down in each of those races and do county by county results for all of them instantaneously. We’ve had this ability before, but the interest to put it on air wasn’t there. Our interactive tools will allow us to tell a story geographically and demographically in a very easy to consume way. That’s the part of that I think that viewers are really going to be able to enjoy on election night.
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What are your predictions for the results?
Holt: I have no predictions. The most important thing is that we’re going to shut out everything that’s led up to this point, and follow a story. There will be a surprise, there will be some direction that you didn’t expect.. We’re going to follow the story.
Todd: We expect record high turnout, and when you have record high turnout there’s no precedent, and if there’s no precedent, you don’t have a basis to make predictions. I’m not copping out when we say this. When you have super high turnouts, strange stuff happens. People lose that nobody expects to lose. 1994 is the closest parallel I think and 1994 was one of those where you’re like, “Oh my God, that happened?” That’s what I think election night is going to be like, and in that sense, we’re going to have a blast.
Holt: I have no predictions. The most important thing is that we’re going to shut out everything that’s led up to this point, and follow a story. That’s the most interesting part of this election night. There will be a surprise, there will be some direction that you didn’t expect. We’re going to follow the story. I go in with no expectations.
Todd: We’re going to have record high turnout, and when you have record high turnout there’s no precedent, and if there’s no precedent, you don’t have a basis to make predictions. I’m not copping out when we say this. When you have super high turnouts, strange stuff happen though.. People lose that nobody expects to lose. 1994 is the closest parallel I think and 1994 was one of those where you’re like, “Oh my God, that happened?” That’s what I think election night is going to be like, and in that sense, we’re going to have a blast.
NBC News Special: The Vote: America's Future, Tuesday, November 6, 8/7c, NBC