Holidays over for newsies as caucuses loom


After a couple days off for Christmas, TV journalists on the campaign trail are hunkered down in Des Moines through New Year's Day and the Iowa caucuses on Thursday.

Although it seems like the 2008 presidential campaign has been going on since November 2004, next week is the first time voters will get to pick from among the Republican and Democratic candidates. For the past several weeks, the caucuses has been the subject of a full-court press by journalists covering the major candidates who have been jetting between Iowa, New Hampshire and elsewhere nationwide.

And it's all hands on deck from now until Thursday, when caucus-goers gather all over the Hawkeye State.

"Basically, the idea is that everyone is down (takes off) the 24th and 25th (of December) and that's it," said Chuck Todd, political director of NBC News, before the holiday.

Said Jeff Greenfield, CBS News chief political correspondent and a veteran of many presidential campaigns, "It definitely screws up many vacations."

Blame the accelerated primary season in a month that will blow harder than a blizzard in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, or Manchester, N.H. Iowa's early start gives only five days until the New Hampshire primary Jan. 8, followed quickly by South Carolina, Michigan and Nevada ahead of "Super Duper Tuesday" on Feb. 5, when 20 states including California and New York will hold voting.

That's something new, said CNN senior political correspondent Candy Crowley.

"In years past, you had a little breathing room," she said. "This year, you don't." For Crowley, that meant buying gift cards for loved ones this year and rushing to figure out what to do about Christmas dinner for her grown children in the few days she had at home before the holiday.

Not that anyone's complaining much. For political journalists such as Greenfield and Crowley, this is it. Greenfield said the 2008 campaign has been one of the most interesting he's ever covered.

"This one for a whole lot of reasons is right up there," he said. "We are wide open on both parties, and we are possibly going to nominate and/or elect a woman or a black or a Mormon or an Italian-American president — none of which has ever happened. On that level alone, it's fascinating."

ABC News political director David Chalian said the campaign likely will go full blast New Year's Eve and New Year's Day because the candidates have only a finite amount of time to make a difference.

"The campaign trail goes relatively quiet on the 24th and 25th, but I don't think you'll see that on the first," Chalian said. "Even though it's New Year's and everything, it's 48 hours out (from the caucuses), and that's when people are deciding."

"Fox News Sunday" executive producer Marty Ryan said interest has heated up among viewers since Labor Day, reaching ever higher in the days before Iowa and New Hampshire.

"For eight or nine days, it'll be a topic of full interest by everybody," Ryan said.

That will continue through Feb. 5, when the election wave recedes for the moment. There might even be a nominee from one or both parties, though few people are going to put money on that right now.

"Now it's pretty frenetic until the 6th of February, after Super Duper Tuesday," Crowley said. "Then it goes into hibernation while they raise money and figure out what the spring campaign will look like. There will be a lull. There's an end to this craziness in February."

There's "Christmas in Connecticut" and "Autumn in New York," but Greenfield noted that there's no precedent for this.

"Nobody wrote a song called 'New Year's Eve in Des Moines,' " Greenfield said.