Covering the Also-Rans
SCOTT SIMON, host:
Presidential candidates aren't the only ones who win or lose on election night. Some reporters get to cover the big story. Others, the also-rans.
In New Hampshire, NPR's Robert Smith was assigned to fourth-place finisher Rudy Giuliani. And on Tuesday night, sounds like Robert had extra time to write his reporter's notebook.
ROBERT SMITH: You know the feeling when you arrive at a party and nobody else is there? Well, I was already eyeing the exit door of the empty ballroom, when one of Rudy Giuliani's aides spotted me and put a press credential around my neck. They'd already spent a few million dollars coming in fourth place, and they weren't going to spend any extra on this party. Two words: cash bar.
The reporters assigned to Rudy on primary night looked a little depressed. I don't want to call them the B-team because, well, you know, I was there. But let's just say some of the journalists looked like interns.
(Soundbite of music)
SMITH: Normally, as a reporter, you try to estimate the crowd - I simply counted them: 71.
Mr. RUDY GIULIANI (Former Republican Mayor, New York; Republican Presidential Candidate): Thank you very, very much.
SMITH: Hey, at least it was quick. The polls closed at 8. Giuliani came to the stage 10 minutes later.
Mr. GIULIANI: First of all, I congratulate the winners of tonight's primary.
Unidentified Woman: Who is it?
SMITH: That was a woman, calling out, who is it, who is the winner. The only thing Giuliani knew was that it wasn't him.
Mr. GIULIANI: I can't call the winner. I have to leave that to the networks to call the winner. But you can be sure, when they do, I will call and congratulate them.
SMITH: Now, while this is happening, the reporters in the room are frantically calling our producers and editors, urging them to cut away, to take the speech live on TV and radio. This was our moment of glory - such as it was. But nobody wanted to hear from Mr. Fourth Place.
Mr. GIULIANI: And maybe we've lulled our opponents into a false sense of confidence now, right?
(Soundbite of laughter)
SMITH: By 8:30, Giuliani and his campaign were on the way to the airport, headed for Florida. My producer joked that the ballroom must have been reserved for a bar mitzvah at 9.
To Giuliani's credit, I've been at plenty of these parties where the loser prolongs the painful evening, waiting for miracle votes that never come. Rudy treated it like pulling off a Band-Aid. Of course, we reporters have to stick around just in case. The TV crews begged the campaign, do not take down the signs and turn off the lights. Just because you're covering an empty ballroom doesn't mean it's allowed to look like that on TV.
Before I left, a few Giuliani supporters wandered in late and looked around. Where is Rudy, they asked, where is the party?
Florida, I had to tell them. But, you can still make it to the McCain party. Winners never close early.
SIMON: NPR's Robert Smith.
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