Permit a moment of rare personal reflection: Our friend and mentor David Broder died today at age 81 after a long illness. I dare not attempt to summarize his career or what he meant to The Washington Post with words — colleagues Robert Kaiser , Joel Achenbach , Dan Balz , Chris Cillizza and John Yang have already done so much better than I ever could.
Instead, I invite you to review David’s reporting, analysis and recollections that we compiled together over the course of the prolonged 2008 presidential campaign.
On the advice of a wise editor, I contacted David early in the cycle and asked whether he’d allow me to tag along with a video camera as he traveled the country speaking with everyday voters.
He quickly replied “Yes” — never second-guessing his decision or attempting to steer the web producer in his preferred direction — but instead trusting that a much younger colleague he barely knew would responsibly document his travels.
For years, David would contact old state and county political sources in search of precincts or neighborhoods occupied by undecided voters. Once he found a good one, he’d select a random street and start knocking on doors, usually during the dinner hour when families were returning home. Days later, hundreds of newspapers nationwide would publish what he heard.
During the 2008 campaign, David decamped several times to suburban shopping malls and libraries, reluctantly admitting to me that with increased traffic and packed schedules, most Americans couldn’t be found at home anymore around the dinner hour.
We traveled together three times — nothing compared to the dozens of times other colleagues spent with him on the bus or next to him in press filing rooms. But in Pennsylvania, we twice visited the public library in Upper Dublin, Pa., where voters seemed genuinely undecided in April and much more in Obama’s camp by the fall. A similar trip to a New Hampshire supermarket yielded a split verdict for Barack Obama and John McCain.
As you can see in the videos above or archived here, David sat outside the library and supermarket for hours in the hot sun or drizzle, scribbling the thoughts of mothers, teachers, unemployed middle-aged men, undecided voters, deep-rooted Democrats and passionate Republicans. He said he would hold their comments in much greater regard than those of the pundits back in Washington.
On our way to the library and supermarket, he reflected on the quirks of political campaigns. In New Hampshire, he thought it was funny that rival campaigns would place political signs directly in front of others, creating a roadside clutter. On the way to a loud, rowdy Philadelphia political dinner with Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton, he recalled Lloyd Bentsten complaining to him in 1976 about attending a similar function in the city. He vividly remembered joining George H. W. Bush and Barbara Bush on a three-week trek across China in 1977.
When we weren’t on the road, David and I (and our former colleague Emily Kotecki ) spent hours together in The Post’s radio studio recording segments for our “Post Politics Podcast” — a production heard only by iPod and satellite radio users — hardly the robust “Meet the Press” audience he informed for so long. During our conversations, he analyzed the undulations of the 2008 race, shared stories from the 13 presidential cycles he covered and candidly assessed the nation’s governors — the political figures he seemed to admire the most.
I’ll always respect and admire David’s fearless embrace of the Internet and other new-age reporting methods — a change of pace and priorities that he often admitted he didn’t completely understand. He once marveled with boyhood curiosity as I showed him how to read his column on my BlackBerry. In turn, I marveled at his collective generosity, sharp wit, studied analysis, dedication to the facts and respect for the opinions of his audience.