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Over the past year, The Times’s Politics desk has been gearing up for the 2020 election — adding more reporters, chasing candidates around the country and covering the issues on voters’ minds.
To introduce readers to the journalists behind much of The Times’s election coverage, the Reader Center asked the Politics reporters — all 21 of them — several questions about their backgrounds and current roles. Here’s what they told us.
What was your path to political reporting?
From: Southern California’s Inland Empire, about 60 miles east of Los Angeles, in what is now one of the fastest-growing regions in the country
Beat: I’m covering the campaign from the West, with a focus on issues like race, religion, immigration and demographics.
In my 15 years at The Times, I’ve reported from five state capitals (Albany, N.Y.; Hartford, Conn.; Trenton, N.J.; Carson City, Nev.; and Sacramento), covered education in New York City and most recently been a National correspondent based in Los Angeles, where I covered everything from immigration, poverty and education to drought, wildfires and mass shootings. In all these roles, understanding political power and dynamics has been a key part of the job, and has led me to want to cover a national campaign up close.
From: Chappaqua, N.Y. — B.C. (Before the Clintons)
Beat: I’ve jumped around this cycle. My favorite kind of reporting is talking to voters on the ground, ideally in battleground regions, and then combining anecdotal voices with analysis of voting patterns and demographics.
My path has been very, very crooked. I began as a sportswriter, wrote for national magazines on many subjects and then joined The Times as a reporter on the Styles desk. I was the editor of the two weekly Styles sections for a dozen years, which included starting the Modern Love column. When I returned to reporting in 2010, I covered education and then the Mid-Atlantic region for the National desk.
This is my third presidential campaign. My first political assignment, in 2011, was to cover a meeting between Sarah Palin, who was exploring a presidential run, and Donald Trump. They ate pizza in Times Square, though I entirely missed the big scoop: both used knives and forks.
From: New Albany, Miss., the birthplace of William Faulkner
Beat: Recently, I’ve been contributing to The Long Run, a series of biographical looks at the candidates, and have written articles from swing states.
One of my very first “beats” was the Mississippi Republican Party, a job that The Clarion-Ledger gave to a rookie reporter because the state had very few Republicans at the time. The assignment became important, though, because Mississippi’s delegation was viewed as pivotal in a nomination battle between Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan. By the time I was 22, I had interviewed both candidates and covered a national convention.
From: Virginia Beach, Va.
Beat: I am an investigative reporter.
I ran The Times’s bureau in Albany, N.Y., for a number of years, which was my introduction and education in political reporting. There’s no better place to learn about politicians — the good, the bad and the soon-to-be-incarcerated — than in the statehouse there.
From: Wymore, Neb.
Beat: I’m interested in issues faced by rural areas in the United States and sometimes overlooked populations.
My route has been winding. I’ve worked at six newspapers across the United States and was The Times’s West Africa bureau chief for the past four years. Nearly all my beats have incorporated political reporting. Here in the United States, I’ve covered statehouses and political campaigns in the Midwest and on both coasts — at the local and federal levels.
What are you looking forward to about covering the 2020 election? What challenges do you anticipate?
From: New York City
Beat: National political correspondent covering the presidential race.
The 2020 election is the next big event in a phase of American politics that began with President Trump’s first campaign. It’s a moment of generational, cultural, ideological and demographic change, and all those forces are converging in the election.
It’s an extraordinary moment to cover. It’s also a wildly unpredictable time and, for many, an alarming one. Doing justice to it is going to be a real challenge for all reporters and newsrooms.
Beat: Senator Elizabeth Warren
I’m looking forward to talking to voters around the country about what’s on their minds — their concerns, their priorities, what they make of President Trump and the many Democrats hoping to defeat him. One unique advantage of this election cycle for me has been Ms. Warren’s lengthy “selfie lines,” which provide plenty of time to talk to voters.
My biggest daily challenge is pretty basic: making sure all my devices don’t run out of battery power.
From: New York City
Politics is so important, and also so emotional, at the moment. That is both good and bad for a reporter. It’s great to feel that you’re in the heart of the conversation, and it’s helpful at times of national anxiety to be able to immerse yourself in something, instead of just observing it nervously from afar.
But it’s challenging, of course, because the country is so polarized. I don’t want to have policy debates with the people I cover — I just want to cover what I observe.
From: A suburb of Kansas City, Mo.
Beat: Former Vice President Joe Biden
I love the campaign trail. It is definitely not glamorous — lots of filing from strange locations, lengthy car rides and virtually no sleep — but I really enjoy seeing different parts of the country and gaining an on-the-ground understanding of how voters in key states are thinking about the presidential race.
In terms of challenges, the pace of the news cycle is already intense and voting hasn’t even started. But that ensures our jobs are never boring.
From: West Bloomfield, Mich.
Beat: I cover the relationship between President Trump and the conservative movement, one of the most improbable but so far successful relationships in American politics in a long time.
People on all sides are as invested and interested in the outcome of this election as I can ever remember. Capturing that and explaining the motivations behind it is one of the most important jobs we have. But making sure we’re looking in the right places and talking to a range of people will always be a challenge.
From: West Hartford, Conn.
Beat: I write the On Politics newsletter and cover the 2020 Democratic field.
We are in an unprecedented period in American political life. All the old rules are being changed by technology, demographic shifts and, yes, the president. No one knows exactly what’s going to happen. And if you’re in our business, that makes for a great story.
From: New York City
Beat: Mostly roving deep-dives and features, generally on the 2020 field.
One of the joys of the job is having an excuse to talk to many people whom we would probably never meet in another line of work: voters, policy experts and, right now, some two dozen people who think they should lead the free world.
In my case, as someone who often profiles candidates or tries to zoom in on meaningful chapters of their lives, there’s an added category of interviewee that always fascinates me: the candidates’ close friends, relatives, former classmates, former bandmates (hey, Beto) — the people who know the contenders most intimately, who have often seen them at their best and their worst. They have many stories to tell.
In your role, you talk to lots of different people with lots of different political views. How do you make sure that everyone is open to a conversation?
From: Flossmoor, Ill., in the south suburbs of Chicago
Beat: Senator Kamala Harris, and previously Senator Elizabeth Warren. I also dip into the other candidates and cover big themes like race and identity and grass-roots movements.
I find this to be the most exciting part of our role. You can meet and connect with so many people, and it’s incumbent on me to win their trust, and to make clear our journalistic mission and values.
I try to be transparent and accessible to Democrats and Republicans alike, while remaining cleareyed about facts and not shying away from the truth. In my experience, that transparency is valued. And if you put in real effort to demonstrate your commitment to getting things right, or you admit you made a mistake, I like to think those who appreciate that will outnumber the haters.
From: Sherman Oaks, in the San Fernando Valley in Southern California (yes, I’m a Valley girl)
Beat: Senator Bernie Sanders
I go into every conversation I have with a pretty simple goal: just listen. A lot of people from both sides of the political spectrum are initially skeptical or wary, but I try to show them that I only want to hear what they have to say, without judgment or an agenda.
From: A working-class neighborhood in Redwood City, Calif.
Beat: I recently returned from being The Times’s Andes bureau chief and look forward to seeing how things have changed in many of the states I haven’t visited since I was a child.
Many people in the United States feel the news media isn’t interested in their political views. I think part of the job of a reporter is to be an ambassador for the profession — to show that we come with an open mind and are here to listen. If you can establish that at the start of an interview, people will be more open to a conversation with you.
From: San Francisco
Beat: I focus mostly on the currency of politics: money. That means I spend time talking with wealthy political contributors, professional fund-raisers and, increasingly, the digital masterminds who help the candidates target the millions of small contributors who donate online.
I have covered both political parties, Congress, the White House and presidential campaigns. One of the most important things to never forget is that the people I am covering, and the officials I interact with, are human beings, too. They have feelings, along with their faults and skills.
What I’ve found is that if you show you are truly listening — whether I’m interviewing a Democratic lawmaker, a Wall Street billionaire or a conservative activist who has greeted me with “fake news!” — people usually come around to respect and trust you.
Tell us about a memorable anecdote from being on the road or the campaign trail for this election.
From: Peoria, Ill.
Beat: The 2020 Democrats
At the Iowa State Fair, my Times colleagues and I asked the presidential candidates if they would agree to be interviewed on rides with us. Some did! Senator Cory Booker had the most fun — he brought a horde of photographers and reporters to the Ferris wheel before jumping in a car with me, Lisa Lerer and Sydney Ember.
In the air, it was tricky to get Mr. Booker to focus on our questions because he just wanted to talk about how it compared to the New Jersey amusement park rides of his youth. But we did it.
From: Arlington, Va.
Beat: National political correspondent covering the presidential race.
The Fourth of July is big in Iowa the year before the primary. One of the go-to events for candidates is the evening game that the Triple-A Iowa Cubs play, which is always followed by fireworks.
But there’s another tradition that takes place before the game: A local judge swears in a group of new American citizens. This year, I was not only at the game; I was on the field. It was a powerful experience, taking it all in on a gorgeous Midwestern evening. And yes, we get paid for this.
From: Montclair, N.J.
Beat: My areas of interest include gun policy, women in politics and voting rights. I also cover the debate qualification process and write a weekly campaign recap with my colleague Matt Stevens.
I lost my driver’s license en route to New Hampshire to cover Senator Bernie Sanders’s Labor Day weekend events, which meant that when I landed in Boston, I had to spend two hours getting the Massachusetts State Police to look up my out-of-state license and print out proof so that I could rent a car.
Then I drove up to Raymond, N.H., ran from the parking lot to the venue, got there a few minutes before the event started, stopped to catch my breath and smiled politely at a man standing next to me. He proceeded to hold out his hand and introduce himself as Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry’s.
From: Chatham, N.J. (the greatest state in the country)
Beat: Senator Cory Booker, as well as all things digital: messaging, disinformation, election security and voter suppression.
I was with Senator Cory Booker in Atlantic City, N.J., at a Democratic rally where he was a keynote speaker. I had asked for a 10-minute interview with him afterward. Concerned about attracting selfie seekers, particularly on his home turf in Jersey, he asked if we could make a “quick exit” and do the interview in his car, rather than walk and talk through the casino where the convention was taking place.
I said sure, and immediately Mr. Booker broke into what for him, a former D-1 football player, was a jog but for me was a full-on sprint. We ran all the way through the casino — probably one of the only times that has happened without attracting mobs of security. We eventually got to the car, but I had to catch my breath before asking the first question.
From: San Diego
Beat: General assignment and the entrepreneur Andrew Yang
When I was in Concord, N.H., in the spring, I attended a campaign event at a new neighborhood coffee shop. I ended up staying there to finish my story and got so engrossed I failed to realize the coffee shop had closed while I was working. The kind owner and staff let me keep chugging along — and didn’t say a word.
I was embarrassed when I realized what had happened, but also super thankful. So when I was in Concord again months later, I made sure to return to the same coffee shop. The staff remembered me. Now I feel as though I have a favorite coffee shop in Concord — even though I can’t say the same for my neighborhood in New York.
Produced by Andrew Sondern.
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