Coffee, Gummy Bears & Adrenaline: How News Anchors Are Preparing for a Very Long Election Night
CBS News’ Margaret Brennan, John Dickerson, Norah O’Donnell, Gayle King and Ed O’Keefe
Like a lot of Americans, Gayle King can’t sleep.
“I’m so…I feel so nervous, on edge. We just did a story on the news this morning that said election day will be one of the most stressful days for Americans ever,” says King, 65, of her feelings leading up to Election Day.
“I’ll be on the air for as long as it takes,” she adds, explaining, “Why would I invest all that time… and then say I’m going to take a nap now?”
King’s colleague O’Donnell is balancing election coverage with parent teacher conferences, she tells PEOPLE.
“The other night I was up compiling my notes. I thought if I had studied this much in college I would have been a straight-A student,” she says of her preparation. “It’s the most exciting, most consequential Presidential election of my lifetime … This is the Super Bowl.”
This marks 60 Minutes reporter Dickerson’s eighth election. Dickerson, 52, relies on coffee rather than food on election night. “The funny thing is, eating is weird. There’s so much adrenaline, I don’t really eat,” he says. “It gets so intense it’s like food is an irritant, because food doesn’t tell you how voters in Miami-Dade are turning out.”
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Fox News’ Martha MacCallum
For MacCallum, the weeks leading up to election night were “crazy.”
“We’ve been flying around to all of the debates and doing our best to be everywhere in these difficult circumstances,” MacCallum, 56, who will be leading the network’s election night coverage, tells PEOPLE. “It’s been an unusual year for everybody in every way and it’s hard to believe we’re in the homestretch.”
This will be the sixth presidential election MacCallum has covered during her career. The first, in 2000, was during her stint as a financial analyst at CNBC.
She’s learned a few tricks over the past 20 years to help her awake and alert during what is sure to be a very long night.
“I try to get a good night’s sleep the night before and get out for some fresh air in the morning,” she said. “Go for a run, eat right over the course of the day — you know, nothing too heavy, because you want to have that longevity.”
“It’s pretty easy to start digging in to candy around 10 p.m., especially just a few days after Halloween. I try to stay away from that until the bitter end.”
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Fox News’ Bill Hemmer
When it comes to preparing for Election Day, the Chief Anchor of Fox News is focused on logistics.
“Currently, I have three charts on my desk that detail the battleground states and how their laws vary and what the rules are for receiving absentee ballots and counting early, in-person votes … and how they proceed after Election Day,” Hemmer tells PEOPLE. “So a big responsibility for us is, if a race has not been called, to explain perhaps why and explain perhaps when.”
The Bill Hemmer Reports host, 55, adds that he hopes the race will not be drawn out, recalling that he was “one of those reporters in Tallahassee 20 years ago and that lasted 37 days.”
“I hope for the good of the country that this can be resolved in short order. And perhaps that’s Tuesday night and we’ll leave here and think what was the fuss all about it? But if not, my hope is that we won’t be locked in a contest for too long.”
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Fox News’ John Roberts
As a veteran political reporter, Roberts is used to change — just not the amount 2020 has brought to the campaign.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Roberts, 63, told PEOPLE while setting up for a live shot outside a Trump 2020 rally in Scranton, Pennsylvania on Monday.
For Roberts and other network correspondents trailing the campaigns, pandemic restrictions have also meant far less travel compared with typical election cycles.
“This has really been a walk in the park in terms of travel,” he says. “In 2016, I was gone for the better part of 18 months, and sometimes I would be gone for three weeks at a time.”
As for the night of? Roberts — who packed a travel bag with a blanket, toothbrush, changes of clothes and a pillow — is prepared for anything. “I don’t know how it will go,” he says with a nervous laugh. “It could end Tuesday night or it might not end until January. We will see.”
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NBC News’ Hallie Jackson
The NBC News chief White House Correspondent is trying to pack in as much as possible ahead of Election Day, for which she’ll be “racing home from North Carolina while trying to listen to the president’s last late-night rallies in other key swing states.”
Adds Jackson, 36, “I figure it’ll be my last shot at getting more than three hours of sleep for a while, so I’ll try to get to bed by midnight.”
After that, the MSNBC Live with Hallie Jackson host doesn’t anticipate slowing down for at least 24 hours. “The morning’s a crazy scramble of prepping, editorial conversations, and touching base with sources. Since I’m broadcasting from the home studio, my partner plans to make me breakfast. I’ll feed my daughter while juggling calls, as usual. Then, it’s showtime, and after that, the trek to the White House to start my second ‘shift’ of the day — one that I’m expecting to roll right into Wednesday morning.”
When it comes to preparing for her time at the White House, Jackson says that she expects “to be in nonstop mode Tuesday night. I’ll have a few essentials within arm’s reach — Lara bars, beef jerky, my breast pump. I have an infant daughter, and at some point before the next morning I’ll need to take 15 minutes to stash some milk for her,” she says of daughter Monroe, whom she welcomed with partner Frank Thorp in March.
“I quit drinking coffee almost two years ago, but if there’s anything that could get me back on that train, it’s Election Night 2020,” she adds.
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NBC News’ Geoff Bennett
Jackson’s colleague Bennett has a two-prong approach to Election Day: the personal and professional.
“Ahead of Election Day, I check in with sources to see if the race might have changed in ways that polls or reporting fail to capture,” the NBC News White House correspondent tells PEOPLE. “The morning of, I read local news in battleground states, check for major voting issues or irregularities, and I take another pass at the latest available polling. I try to digest as much information as possible to put it all into context for our viewers.”
“On a personal level,” he continues, “I keep a list of all the cities I visit in the course of covering a race. On Election Day, I make a point of taking a minute to look at it and reflect on the experience. The cliché is true: We have a front-row seat to history, and I’m grateful for it.”
Bennett, an unabashed iced coffee lover, credits the caffeine with getting him through long days and nights of election coverage.
“I cannot be without iced coffee — no matter where I am, no matter how cold it might be,” he says. “I was in Omaha to cover a Trump rally recently where the wind chill was in the 20s – iced coffee in hand. It’s the fastest way to get the caffeine into my veins – that’s the fuel that makes these 13-, 14-hour long days possible.”
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NBC News’ Chuck Todd
NBC News’ Political Director, who is hosting the network’s special “Decision 2020” election coverage with Lester Holt, Savannah Guthrie, Chuck Todd and Andrea Mitchell, has a ritual for getting into the right headspace to cover Election Day: taking time for himself the day before, and listening to his “election eve/morning anthems.”
“I do try to drown out outside noise in the last 12 hours before the marathon begins, Todd, 48, tells PEOPLE. “I play two songs frequently to get me in the mood, usually alternating. The first song is ‘One Day More’ from Les Misérables, the lyrics evoke many themes you hear a lot these days. After that high-minded way of setting the tone for me, I then blast the Ramones’ ‘I Wanna Be Sedated,’” he says, adding, “This song is emblematic of our collective exhaustion of covering this campaign!”
With regards to election-night coverage, the Meet the Press moderator says that the network has “made a ton of what I call ‘transparency’ adjustments so that the viewers have all the tools they need to understand how much vote is left to be counted, and how long it will take to count that vote.”
That added time usually requires the occasional sugar boost for Todd. While adrenaline plays a big part in keeping him awake, the anchor shares that “gummy bears are probably my secret. It’s the only time I even have a taste for them, at the election night desk. The sugar high must help.”
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CNN’s David Chalian
Before beginning his on-camera coverage in the early evening, CNN’s Political Director hopes to “have a morning where I can clear my head a little bit,” he tells PEOPLE. “That probably means getting on the treadmill a little bit, and playing with my daughter a little bit, who is 6 months old,” says Chalian, 47.
“I will be on camera [likely starting at] 5 p.m., once we start getting exit poll results,” he says, adding that he will “be prepared to go until 4 A.M. the next morning, what have you.”
In order to keep up his energy, he admits that “sugar does help” as the evening goes on. Mostly, he credits coffee, staying hydrated and taking breaks to sit down with being the key to making it through. “I have a standing position so I have to remember to sit down sometime, so I don’t stand nonstop for 12 hours. Sit and hydrate, those are the most important things.”
Seeing how the night unfolds is its own energy source, adds Chalian, who tells PEOPLE that he avoids making predictions about potential election outcomes.
“I really try to stay out of the prediction business because the joy of covering elections is, I love having America reveal itself as votes are coming in,” he explains. “Not to get too corny, but I really do see this quadrennial exercise we do as a nation — where we hold up a mirror to ourselves and ask, who are we as a people, where do we want to … every election night I cover, there’s surprise in that. My joy is letting the voters dictate what the story of the night is.”
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ABC News’ Juju Chang
Chang has covered plenty of hurricanes before, and the Nightline co-anchor tells PEOPLE that preparing to cover the 2020 election is, well, similar.
“You throw everything you think you might need into the bag and then some,” Chang, 55, says. “And then you check yourself into a hotel with a generator and pray.”
The Emmy Award-winning anchor and a team of three ABC News producers have spent the last several weeks preparing to cover election night from Michigan, one of six swing states that may determine the presidency.
In order to provide viewers with complete context about the state, Chang and her team have been studying every minutiae of how the 2016 vote played out and what factors are playing into 2020.
“It’s like studying for a final exam: The more you study in advance, the better you’ll be on the day of the exam,” Chang says. “We’re spending a lot of time reading and sending, you know, Amazon screenshots of hand warmers we should be buying.”
Chang says her producers have been firing texts back and forth about everything from what snacks to bring with and what issues to cover.
“I’m a caffeine girl, but the biggest thing I run on during nights like this is adrenaline,” she says.
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ABC News’ Cecilia Vega
Chang’s colleague Vega will also be on her toes Tuesday night, reporting live from the White House.
“It’s really going to come down to M&Ms and coffee,” Vega laughs. “And the producer who can run over and pinch me if they see me nodding off.”
The 43-year-old senior White House correspondent says she’s been thumbing through three large binders, trying to prepare for election night by recapping all that’s happened in the last four years of Trump’s presidency.
“It’s been historic with the pace of news,” Vega, an Emmy Award-winning anchor, tells PEOPLE. “There’s major headlines that you’ve never seen in one administration let alone the magnitude of ones we’ve seen in the last four years with this administration.”
Prepping for how to cover election night was no less overwhelming. Vega dug through her cabinets to find her largest thermos, packed an overnight bag in preparation for staying at the office throughout the week, and grabbed as many naps as she could over the weekend.
“This is a team sport, for sure,” Vega says about her ABC News colleagues, whose friendship and commercial break pep talks she credits with keeping her awake. “You can’t fall when they’re next to you.”
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