Faster than a speeding ballot: It's Super Tuesday


Beyond perhaps adding a greater clarity to the presidential campaign and being the first essentially national primary in U.S. history, Super Tuesday did one more thing: It gave the networks a dry run for the November election.

That was in evidence the whole night at CNN election headquarters at Time Warner Center in Manhattan. Many of the elements were in full force Tuesday: The cable newsers had wall-to-wall coverage, while the Big Three devoted a significant amount of airtime to the results. The men and women who will report and analyze the results Nov. 4 all were on the job, and in several cases, the processes and technologies that the networks will use to deliver the news played a prominent role.

At CNN election headquarters, that technology was everywhere — from the 34-foot-long video stream (bigger than in 2006) that showed the results and projections at a glance to the smaller screen that correspondent John King used to break down state-by-state balloting. With so many races in so many places, it's all about the data and how to bring the sometimes overwhelming raft of information to the TV audience.

"This is the most important thing we can do for our viewers," CNN political director Sam Feist said in the control room, while upstairs King took viewers through the results county by county in New Jersey. "It's telling viewers why we have or haven't called the races."

His boss, CNN president Jon Klein, said it was important to make sure that what's on the screen doesn't confuse viewers — the network's words to live by as the data came pouring in throughout the evening and into the morning New York time.

The networks didn't waste time calling at least one of the races. The results of the West Virginia GOP convention — a win for Mike Huckabee — were known shortly after 2 p.m. EST. But it took five more hours for the networks to call an actual primary, based on exit polling on the Democratic race in Georgia. Fox News Channel, CNN, MSNBC and NBC's "Nightly News" predicted that Barack Obama would win, but no one felt confident enough to call the Georgia Republican race.

Then others came fast and furious: Massachusetts for Mitt Romney, Illinois for Obama, John McCain in New Jersey and Connecticut. Other networks called Massachusetts, a heavily Democratic state, for Hillary Clinton at 9 p.m. But CNN held out. From the control room, Feist said that the tide looked to be favoring Clinton, but the network wanted to make sure.

"Clinton had a commanding lead, but we wanted to wait to see some votes in Boston," Feist said. Better right than first, Klein repeated several times during the night.

But other nonpolitical news broke in, too. CNN spent time during the night covering the deadly tornadoes in Tennessee and Arkansas.

Klein said it was an important breaking news story that was developing throughout the night.

"We're well equipped to handle all of it," he said.

CNN was the conduit of information for both the Obama and Clinton camps, with big screens showing CNN calling the New Jersey primary for Clinton. On the screen in the control room, the crowd at Clinton's headquarters went wild, while a silence fell over the Illinois ballroom filled with Obama's supporters.

ABC devoted its entire primetime on both coasts — and into the late-night in New York — to coverage of the events. CBS offered two hours of coverage beginning at 9 p.m. EST, with NBC going with MSNBC as well as one primetime hour at 10 p.m. after "The Biggest Loser." Fox's one-two counterpunch was formidable: "American Idol" at 8 p.m. and an original "House" at 9.

Fox News Channel's coverage included a special analyst, Karl Rove, and debuted a new video wall of its own and touch screen that anchor Bill Hemmer operated through the evening.