Covering Caucuses: All About Ground Game For News Nets

The evening news anchors were in for a busy night with the action heating up in Iowa. When CBSEvening News anchor Scott Pelley came on from New York at 6:30 ET, he teased “the last push for the first votes,” and led with video of GOP frontrunner Donald Trump. “It’s caucus time in Iowa,” said Pelley, who had Nancy Cordes, Major Garrett and John Dickerson on the ground in Iowa.

Up the dial a few spots, at least here in New York, NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt, sporting a stylish plaid jacket in Iowa, said “It’s all about turnout and ground game,” referencing the “wild sprint to a dramatic finish” in Iowa.

Over on ABC, World News anchor David Muir too was set up in Iowa, showing video of Trump channeling Twisted Sister. “I want to win Iowa and send the message, we’re not gonna take it anymore,” said Trump.

World News featured five correspondents on the screen, assigned to Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.

One, Tom Llamas, got face time with Sarah Palin, who said she usually thinks polls are for “strippers and cross-country-skiers,” but this time, it’s different.

Yes, the circus has begun.

Fox, meanwhile, had TMZ in the 6:30 slot, but Fox News was of course going strong, with Bret Baier in Des Moines for the 6-7 p.m. hour, to be joined by Megyn Kelly at 8.

CBS Evening News had Bob Schieffer in New York, and even got some screen time for Dem longshot Martin O’Malley, looking casual in blue jeans, insisting he was still in the race. Correspondent Cordes got an interview with Sanders.

ABC correspondent Cecilia Vega reported from a building where the Sanders and Clinton camps were separated by a short hallway; a handwritten sign outside the Sanders door said, “Welcome to the Revolution.”

At 6:37, ABC reported that Clinton held a slim lead in the Democrat side.

Back on NBC, it was a clip of Sanders singing “This Land Is Your Land” onstage, with political correspondent Kasie Hunt in Des Moines. The political specialists, Chuck Todd and Andrea Mitchell, came on at 6:39, Mitchell recalling Clinton’s brutal loss in Iowa eight years ago, losing to not just then-Sen. Obama, but John Edwards too.

It was 6:40 when the first non-Iowa story came up on the Big Three, CBS reporting on the Zika virus, which it had teased at the open. On ABC, Muir visited a cinnamon roll facility in Iowa, then George Stephanopoulos was on at 6:41 offering his perspective on the Dems, saying even a win for Sanders spells a long road ahead for the Vermont upstart.

By 6:43, Pelley was on to a train derailment, and ABC had extreme weather across much of the country Tuesday. NBC stuck with politics, correspondent Peter Alexander explaining the at times arcane nature of caucuses, before going to break at 6:44.

ABC and CBS went to commercial at minute later.

It’s a long night, folks, and a longer nine months until Election Day. Pace yourselves.  

Michael Malone

Michael Malone is content director at B+C and Multichannel News. He joined B+C in 2005 and has covered network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television, including writing the "Local News Close-Up" market profiles. He also hosted the podcasts "Busted Pilot" and "Series Business." His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The L.A. Times, The Boston Globe and New York magazine.