I will not be interviewing President Obama for our Sunday political show, Face the State. Don’t laugh, the premise was not as far fetched as you might think.
For the past year, the president has been granting sit down interviews with local media all over the country. According to CBS News White House correspondent Mark Knoller, there have been 58 such interviews. The theory is local reporters can get the president better access to voters, and some believe the questions might be easier than the president might get on Face the Nation or Meet the Press, although I take issue with the latter.
Last fall, I contacted the White House press office to see about setting up one of these interviews with President Obama. The press aide was very gracious and helpful and I gave him the information he requested. I sent him our info sheet detailing how the interview would reach a big number of voters, because WFSB is the most watched station in Connecticut. Excerpts of the interview would run on Eyewitness News and in its entirety on Face the State. I was told if we were chosen to conduct a presidential interview, we would be given 4 to 5 days notice.
As winter turned to spring and spring to summer, I checked in with the White House periodically, usually monthly or after I watched reporters from television stations in other states questioning the president. I was always told my request still had not been granted but if Mr. Obama came to Connecticut, I was first on the list.
Then last month, we learned the president was coming to Westport, for a fundraiser with movie producer Harvey Weinstein, and to Stamford for a larger fundraiser at a hotel. Our time had come! I called the White House and was told the Connecticut trip was not a White House event. I had to contact the headquarters of the re-election campaign in Chicago. I left six or seven messages, all went unreturned.
After a call to the Connecticut Democratic party, I got this email from a staffer for the Obama campaign:
“The president won’t be available for interviews on this trip. Thanks for reaching out.”
Why were we turned down, I wondered. Was it because my father-in-law donated to Hillary Clinton in 2008? Is it because my brother is a Florida Republican? No. I think it’s because I’m from Connecticut.
A good number of those 58 interviews granted by the president were to reporters in battleground or swing states. Our state is increasingly blue, and with Democrats controlling the governor’s office, the state legislature, the congressional delegation, and the states’s three biggest cities, the belief is the president will easily carry the state in November. The last time a Republican won Connecticut was 1988, by the first President George Bush, who grew up here and was the son of the late senator Prescott Bush. George W. Bush was born in New Haven, and is the only U.S. president born in Connecticut, yet didn’t even try to win his native state in 2000.
A cynic could say President Obama takes Connecticut for granted. After all, there was no public appearance during his visit to the Gold Coast of our state, no local media interviews, although voters were well aware he was here. A popular state park and beach were shut down to accommodate the president’s helicopter along with two exits on the states’s busiest highway….during rush hour.
The Republicans are certainly helping the president take the state for granted. Last year, the GOP didn’t even field a candidate in the race for mayor of Hartford, the capital city. It seems as if Mitt Romney has written off Connecticut as unwinnable, even though he was elected governor of a state not unlike ours, and the most recent poll showed an 8 point race between him and the president, down to 5 if Romney picks Condoleezza Rice as his running mate. The Public Policy Polling survey also found Romney winning independents and the president’s approval rating down to 50%, yet our 7 electoral votes are apparently of no interest to his campaign.
Romney has also turned down our requests for an interview, and like the president, has come here for fundraisers but passed on interviews and rallies. To quote the old Connecticut Lottery ad, “you can’t win if you don’t play.”
Bottom line: our state is not a factor in this presidential election, so don’t expect any loving from Romney or Obama this year, but both will gladly take your money.