Liveblogging Rather One Last Time: His Strength is In the Charts
Rather has just finished a 15-minute Q&A with a surprisingly sparse audience here at Eckerd College's Miller Auditorium -- facing a group which seems evenly divided between young hopeful students and older folks who may be teachers or activists.
It's in settings like this that Rather shines best, wearing his avuncular Texas formality like a comfy old overcoat, offering folksy phrases and straight-talking charm to hold the audience in his sway.
One person asks how pundits can make predictions for the general election when Florida has so many independent voters, and Rather notes "he who lives by the crystal ball, often winds up eating a lot of glass." When an earnest young woman asks about the importance of the youth vote, the 76-year-old anchor gently notes that old political hands often dismiss young voters as vocal enthusiasts who don't show up to the polls.
"I'm not one to give advice," he said to chuckles from the small crowd. "But if you're asking, I'd tell young people to circle election day on their calendars and make sure they get out and vote."
To my eyes, this was not the Rather we'd come to see during CBS election coverage -- a time which seems an eternity away. Back then, the famously tense anchor seemed wound tighter than a porcupine in a balloon factory, balancing the weight of CBS News' reputation on every prognostication and observation.
On the smaller stage offered by HD Net and Eckerd College, Rather could relax a little, throw out some interesting questions and let the conversation flow. It might not have felt as important as the big shot network or cable TV presentations, but for political wonks who want a bit of smart political strategy with their election returns, it was a pretty good broadcast.
To prove my wonkiness, I'll admit my favorite aspect of the show was the data Rather's team collected on the election. Here's a sample of the stats they gave viewers:
From Jan. 1 to 22, Giuliani ran 2,878 TV ads in Florida, compared to 1,392 for Romney and 470 for McCain -- the exact inverse of election results (if I were Gov, Crist, I'd keep those numbers in my back pocket to show the power of an endorsement from one popular politician, versus a blanket of expensive TV ads). Romney aired more ads over the entire election -- 4,475, compared to Giuliani's 3,067.
Rather also listed where candidates' money came from. Clinton and Obama got the most money from commercial banks; Giuliani and Clinton got the most money from Big Tobacco companies; McCain and Clinton got the most money from telephone companies and utilities; Clinton and Obama got the most money from big pharmacy companies; Giuliani and Romney got the most from oil and gas companies and Clinton and McCain got the most money from lobbyists. (Donnie Fowler noted Obama had 100,000 more individual donors than Clinton, suggesting more people writing smaller checks).
The former CBS anchor pledges to offer five hours of coverage during Super Tuesday next week from California. And my inner wonk might not be able to resist tuning in.