National newsrooms are gearing up for full-fledged Election Night coverage on Tuesday as voters cast ballots in primaries in five states.
The extensive news coverage is largely thanks to the twists and turns in the Pennsylvania Senate primary, with the leading Democratic candidate John Fetterman sidelined by a stroke and three Republican candidates in a tight race. There are many compelling angles on the media beat:
– Some of the GOP candidates, namely Kathy Barnette, are relatively unvetted. Who will that come back to haunt?
– Dr. Mehmet Oz gave up his daytime TV show for a Senate run. Will he regret that?
– Fetterman kept the press and the public in the dark about his health for the better part of two days. Same question: Will he regret that?
– Barnette and gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano have made a show of shutting out the press. How many other GOP contenders will do the same in the months ahead?
– How reliable will the pre-primary polls turn out to be?
Here are some more questions and angles…
How much is the Hannity endorsement worth?
“The GOP Senate primary in Pennylvania will not only show how much value Donald Trump’s endorsement is worth, it will also showcase Sean Hannity’s influence,” Oliver Darcy observed. “Like Trump, the Fox host has thrown all his weight behind the Dr. Oz campaign, while some of his colleagues and counterparts have sided with Barnette or David McCormick.”
On Monday night, Hannity implored viewers to reject Barnette and argued that she would lose to a Democrat in the general election. “I cannot even put into words how critically important this race is,” he said. “As I’ve said many many times, it might well decide the balance of power in the Senate.”
Then Hannity reiterated his endorsement of his “longtime friend” Oz and chatted with Oz one more time before election day.
So how much will Hannity matter? “It was clear that Tucker Carlson’s endorsement of J.D. Vance helped push Vance over the line in the Ohio primary,” Darcy wrote. “Will the same be true for Hannity’s endorsement of Oz? The results of the primary could show us how much sway Hannity still holds over the GOP base.”
Which right-wing outlets mattered most?
It’s “a chaotic close to the Pennsylvania Senate primary,” CNN’s Jeff Zeleny said. Much of the campaigning has happened on right-wing TV and radio: Candidates have competed for time with Breitbart, Hannity’s radio show, Steve Bannon’s podcast, and so forth. The “Reliable Sources” team counted at least 21 appearances by the state’s GOP candidates for Senate on Fox and Newsmax in the past two weeks.
In the home stretch, Barnette was on “Fox News Sunday” and Monday’s “Special Report,” and McCormick was on Laura Ingraham’s show one hour after Oz was on Hannity’s show.
Some of the GOP candidates have made themselves available for interviews with the broader media, but the “Fox primary” phenomenon has been in full effect.
“Increasingly,” NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen commented, “political life on the right can go on without intersecting with the establishment news media. It’s not a new development, but an intensifying one.”
How effective was the ad blitz?
There were so, so many attack ads. The Senate GOP primary in Pennsylvania “could be one of the most expensive races in the 2022 election cycle,” CNBC’s Brian Schwartz reports, “with candidates and political action committees spending more than $55 million on television and radio ads.”
And yet, as Politico’s Holly Otterbein told me on Sunday’s “Reliable Sources,” Barnette “surged into contention” despite very little ad spending. Otterbein said this speaks to “the power of right-wing media” and social media — on Facebook, Barnette and Mastriano “get tons of interactions,” she said, describing Facebook fan groups as “kind of like volunteer armies, spreading the message of these candidates.”
How weak was the vetting?
This primary is playing out in Michael Smerconish’s Pennsylvania backyard. On his CNN show last Saturday, he made the following point: “Every time you read that another local newsroom has been eviscerated, please realize what society loses in terms of government oversight — your local school board, the county commissioners, and yes, statewide candidates are getting too much of a free pass. In a bygone era, all these Pennsylvania candidates would have been fully vetted by the local media. Instead, there’s now a scramble underway to educate the public in the 11th hour when many have already returned their ballots.”
Beyond the Keystone State
There are primary elections in North Carolina, Kentucky, Idaho, and Oregon as well. And in a sign of the times, FiveThirtyEight has an entire feature about “the May 17 candidates who believe the 2020 election was stolen.” The website also lists “16 GOP primaries to watch” on Tuesday. Madison Cawthorn’s run for re-election in North Carolina is chief among them. “It’s Cawthorn’s to lose and he may just lose it,” Chris Wallace said on “Anderson Cooper 360” Monday night.
Cable coverage plans
CNN’s special Election Night in America coverage will begin at 7 p.m. Eastern, with Jake Tapper anchoring in DC; Anderson Cooper and Erin Burnett in NYC; and Wolf Blitzer in Philly. Don Lemon will anchor late-night coverage starting at midnight Eastern.
NBC is promoting a “Meet the Press: Election Night Special” on the NBC News Now streaming service. Chuck Todd and Kristen Welker will anchor starting at 8 p.m. ET.
MSNBC is having José Díaz-Balart, Andrea Mitchell, and Katy Tur anchor from Philly during the day on Tuesday. Chris Hayes will anchor from 8 until 10 p.m. ET, and Steve Kornacki will be at the Big Board.
Fox News will air its usual prime time shows but “will feature up-to-the-minute analysis from anchor Bill Hemmer breaking down the numbers on his signature electronic ‘Bill-board,’” the network says.
A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.