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NBC's Primary Source for Election '08
After chatting with Brian Williams for the Mountain Time zone feed of "NBC Nightly News," Todd is back on MSNBC, then on the phone again with the Obama camp. Between swigs of VitaminWater, he is trying to figure out whether the 250,000 votes still uncounted in Indiana are in counties that are Obama strongholds.
"I see nothing out of Lake, nothing out of Porter. . . . You can't call it when you've got nothing out of Gary!"
At 9:18, while Obama is speaking in North Carolina, Todd briefs a producer on the Indiana vote, saying that "if he just wins 55 percent of what's out, he's going to win." Todd later repeats this on the air, writing "55" on his virtual map.
Just before 10 p.m., with Clinton still leading by 6 percentage points, the anchors wonder on the air why Lake County, which includes Gary, hasn't reported yet. "Can we find out, Keith, why we're delayed in getting this vote?" Tom Brokaw asks.
"I will ask Chuck Todd," Olbermann says.
As the night wears on, Todd keeps refining his projection of how much of the Lake County vote Obama needs to upset Clinton. There is also on-air joking with Olbermann about whether MSNBC will call the race at the very moment Todd is on the air explaining that it's too close to call -- which happened during the South Carolina primary and again during Florida. While Todd supervises the political unit, election-night calls are made by polling experts at a separate decision desk.
When Todd delivers his post-midnight conclusion that the Democratic race may have ended, he knows full well the weight of his words. Clinton is close to winning Indiana by 2 percentage points, but the way the media score such things, it is a setback because she was expected to carry the state by a bigger margin. ("Nobody wants to stomp on the grave, but at the same time, reality's reality," he explains off the air.)
When Todd appears at the green wall again at 1:07 a.m., everyone seems a bit punchy. He loosens his yellow tie, asking: "Am I dressed too formally?" Dan Abrams, the late-shift anchor, interrupts Todd to project Clinton the winner in Indiana.
Six hours later, at 7:45 a.m., Todd is back before the cameras. He does "Morning Joe" ("Obama found his voice and put her on the defensive," he says), "Hardball" and "Countdown." "You are unbelievable," Matthews tells him. "I feel like Captain Kirk sometimes and you're Mr. Spock."
While the Obama camp praises Todd, relations have been more strained with top Clinton strategists, who view MSNBC as a blatantly pro-Obama network and have complained about remarks by Matthews and correspondent David Shuster, among others. Clinton aides say Todd is a straight shooter but question his ability to rein in the bigger guns at the network. Todd has told colleagues he is frustrated by the complaints and the perception that MSNBC is biased.
"That's the hardest part of this job," Todd says of fencing with the campaigns. "It's nothing but negative reinforcement: 'You guys are so in the tank for X,' or 'Why are you showing that negative ad 25 times?' "
The job is relentless -- though the Arlington resident, who has two children, still makes time to go to his 4-year-old daughter's soccer games -- but the goateed guru doesn't complain about the demands of television. "I don't want to sound like I'm faking being humble, but I never thought of myself as a TV guy," Todd says. "I just assumed I didn't fit the stereotype."
Meaning? "The looks thing. I've got facial hair -- that's supposed to be a no-no. I've got too many chins."