On Writing: How to Cover Politics

By Mike Feinsilber

Q. Where did the candidate go?
A.  He hit the campaign trail.
Q. Did he campaign in Ohio?
A. He took his campaign to the Buckeye State.
Q. Then what did he do?
A. He crisscrossed the state.
Q. Is that all?
A. Sometimes he zigzagged across the state.
Q.  How would you characterize the state?
A. It is a key battleground.
Q.  Is this the third time the candidate has visited in three weeks?
A.   His third visit in as many weeks.
Q.  So you’d say the candidate barnstormed?
A. You bet. He hit the hustings.
Q.  And?
A. He barnstormed.
Q.  Everywhere?
A. In the heartland.
Q.  He talked about what’s important to voters?
A. All the hot-button issues.
Q. What did the candidate do when met by a big crowd at the airport?
A. He pressed the flesh.
Q. That’s all?
A. He also worked the rope line.
Q.  What did he propose to solve a problem?
A. He spelled out a 10-point program.
Q. Did he make the proposal in a speech?
A.   No, it was a major policy address.
Q.   A number of people want to be his vice presidential choice.
A. They’re in the veepstakes.
Q. It’s been a long campaign.
A. A marathon!
Q. The candidate outlined his program but…?
A. The devil is in the details.
Q.  Would you say the candidate said he is worried about something?
A.  I’d say he expressed concern.
Q.  Is the candidate confident?
A.  He is buoyed by the polls.  You might say he is riding high in the polls.
Q. Nonetheless…
A. He says he will take nothing for granted.
Q.  What about his opponent?
A.  He faces an uphill battle.
Q.  Is he behind by at least 10 percent?
A.   He trails by double digits.
Q.   What does he say about that?
A. “I’ve never believed in polls.”
Q.  When does he say that?
A.  At the end of the day.
Q. So what does he do over the weekend?
A. He huddles with advisers.
Q. And if he does it in the middle of the week?
A. He breaks off campaigning to hole up with advisers.
Q. Just any old advisers?
A.  No, with key advisers.
Q.  Did they decide to hire more campaign workers?
A.   He’ll beef up the campaign team.
Q.  Did he invite his opponent to debate?
A.   Yes, he sat down and fired off a note.
Q.  What if the leader exaggerates his opponent’s advantages?
A.  He’s playing the expectations game.
Q.  Why did the candidate boast that he was six-foot-six?
A.  He was playing the height card.
Q.  Looks like one candidate has lots of money.
A.  Yes, he has amassed a campaign war chest.
Q.  This candidate has been around a long time?
A. He’s a seasoned veteran.
Q.  And his opponent?
A. He’s an untested novice.
Q.  What does the front-runner remind the voters?
A.  That every vote counts.
Q.  And his opponent?
A.  That the only poll that counts occurs on Election Day.
Q. What did the candidates do in the hours before Election Day?
A.  They sprinted to the finish line.
Q. What about the important states?
A. You mean the battleground states?
Q.  Yes.
A. They are up for grabs.
Q. It looks like a close election.
A. It’s down to the wire.
Q. In that case?
A.  It promises to be a long night.
Q. And the voters?
A. They went to the polls in droves.
Q.  Is that all?
A.  Some trooped to the polls.
Q. Despite the weather?
A. They braved foul weather.
Q. Before the results are known, where is the candidate?
A. He holed up in a hotel.
Q. So the challenger beat the incumbent?
A. He showed him the door.
Q.  How did he win?
A. He got the lion’s share of the votes.
Mike Feinsilber keeps an eagle eye out for clichés, to coin a phrase.

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