News Networks Gear Up for Calif. Recall Election

The major news anchors are heading to the West Coast.

ABC’s Peter Jennings, CBS’ Dan Rather and NBC’s Tom Brokaw will be temporarily relocated to California to cover the recall election Tuesday, Oct. 7, Reuters reports, when voters will decide either to keep current Democratic Gov. Gary Davis in office or elect a new governor.

While none of the Big Three will offer complete coverage, they will be focusing on the election during their regular news programs, along with special updates as warranted.

Jennings, joining the leading candidates in the final days of their campaign, will be the first of the major broadcast news organizations to land in Los Angeles, broadcasting ABC’s World News Tonight Friday. ABC’s Nightline, hosted by Ted Koppel, will air two broadcasts–one at 11:35 p.m. Eastern time Tuesday, about half an hour after the California polls close, and a West Coast update three hours later that will air live across the country, Reuters reports.

Brokaw‘s NBC Nightly News will start its L.A. broadcast on Sunday, with Brokaw anchoring on Monday for three nights of newscasts running through Wednesday. Rather and the CBS Evening News will join them Tuesday and Wednesday. Harry Smith will be in L.A. for the CBS Early Show, as will Katie Couric, who will anchor NBC’s Today show from the Left Coast, Reuters reports.

The three leading 24-hour cable news outlets–Fox News Channel, CNN and MSNBC–also are planning special election coverage from Los Angeles and elsewhere in California.

Everyone seems poised to see the battle between Gov. Davis and the myriad of colorful candidates opposing him, including Republican actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, actor Gary Coleman, porn publisher Larry Flynt, and more than 130 other candidates. This event has gained intense national media coverage rarely seen for state gubernatorial races.

“It’s got all the elements,” NBC Nightly News executive producer Steve Capus told Reuters on Thursday. “Start with this unpopular governor trying to make his way through difficult economic times… add in the uniquely California set of circumstances that includes a Hollywood actor and any number of other interesting characters, and you’ve got a great story.”

ABC News political director Mark Halperin said: “It’s quite obvious if Arnold Schwarzenegger were not a candidate in this race, the national networks would not be devoting presidential campaign resources to this story.” He added that widespread voter discontent also has sparked strong interest in the recall experiment of California, home to roughly one in seven Americans, Reuters reports.

Networks have also made a promise not to project winners and losers until all polls close, which should be an easy one to keep because of the long list of candidates, the larger-than-normal number of absentee ballots and the consolidation of precincts. Depending on the closeness of the election, it could be hours, even days, before the outcome is known.

“We’re going to be pretty cautious because there’s a lot of weirdness to this race,” Joe Lensky, executive vice president of Edison Media Research, told Reuters, which together with Mitofsky International, is providing exit poll data for all the networks, several newspapers and local TV stations.