You, too, can be a campaign reporter: Take the test!

Introducing the ACTAT, the secret test all elite reporters must pass before they can hit the 2008 trail.


Michael Scherer
August 16, 2007 3:37PM (UTC)

Get out from behind that computer! Stop whining about the news! You -- yes, you! -- can go on the road and be a campaign reporter! But first you must pass the ACTAT -- the Advanced Campaign Trail Aptitude Test.

For the first time, Salon is bringing the secret standardized mainstream-media test to the public, publishing the actual* questions reporters must answer correctly before they can travel with any candidate. This is not a basic news quiz. This is the real deal.* It's hard.

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How to take the test: Number a piece of paper 1 to 30, and take the test. Check your answers against the answer key on Page 3. If you get only five to 10 questions right, you qualify as a well-informed citizen. If you get more than 15 right, you may be focusing too much time on politics and not enough on your family. If you get every question right, you can have my job.*

*Just kidding.

1. What new high-tech device has John Edwards campaign manager Joe Trippi been showing off on the campaign trail in recent weeks?

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  • A. The SCRAM, an alcohol detection anklet made famous by Lindsay Lohan
  • B. The SatTime 500, a digital watch that displays the GPS location of Sen. Edwards
  • C. The BlackBerry Pearl
  • D. The iPhone
  • E. The Sony VAIO VGN-UX280P, a 6- by-4-inch laptop

2. On the day he announced his presidential campaign, Joe Biden got in trouble for:

  • A. Saying he doesn't like the taste of corn
  • B. Texting a congressional page
  • C. Pledging to bomb Pakistan to kill Osama bin Laden
  • D. Calling Barack Obama "clean" and "articulate"
  • E. Confusing Sunnis with Shiites

3. According to the Washington Post, former John McCain campaign manager Terry Nelson had which cinematic sound clip playing on his computer in the weeks before he resigned from the campaign?

  • A. "Nobody puts baby in a corner." -- Johnny Castle from "Dirty Dancing"
  • B. "Where's the fucking money?" -- The Dude from "The Big Lebowski"
  • C. "Mr. Corleone never asks a second favor once he's refused the first, understood?" -- Tom Hagen from "The Godfather"
  • D. "The horror ... The horror." -- Col. Walter E. Kurtz from "Apocalypse Now"
  • E. "You can't handle the truth." -- Col. Nathan R. Jessep from "A Few Good Men"

4. "Kum & Go" is:

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  • A. A prophylactic sold primarily in South Carolina
  • B. A famous ice cream parlor in Manchester, N.H.
  • C. A gas station chain in Iowa
  • D. John McCain's strategy for winning the Iowa caucuses
  • E. (Insert Bill Clinton joke here)

5. In early August 2003, which Democratic candidate led his rivals in national presidential primary polls?

  • A. John Kerry
  • B. Howard Dean
  • C. John Edwards
  • D. Joe Lieberman
  • E. Richard Gephardt

6. The last time Mike Gravel held public office, the president was:

  • A. Jimmy Carter
  • B. Ronald Reagan
  • C. George H. W. Bush
  • D. Bill Clinton
  • E. Warren G. Harding

7. Ingrid Newkirk, the president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, is mad at Mitt Romney because he:

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  • A. Drowned a bag of kittens in a Michigan river when he was 11 years old
  • B. Invested in a company that demonstrated surgical products on live dogs
  • C. Put his dog, Seamus, on his station wagon roof rack during a family vacation
  • D. Deliberately mocks dolphins on the campaign trail
  • E. Often hunts wild boar in Texas with an automatic rifle

8. Which two 2008 presidential candidates were behind-the- scenes players in the Watergate scandal that brought down Richard Nixon? (Pick two)

  • A. Duncan Hunter
  • B. Chris Dodd
  • C. Hillary Clinton
  • D. Joe Biden
  • E. Fred Thompson
  • F. Ron Paul
  • G. Sam Brownback
  • H. Barack Obama

9. When he announced his resignation from the White House, Bush advisor Karl Rove called Hillary Clinton a:

  • A. "Talented, treacherous, markedly wicked candidate"
  • B. "Brilliant, bodacious, deeply dishonest candidate"
  • C. "Solid, soulful, truly underestimated candidate"
  • D. "Masterful, maniacal, totally unstoppable candidate"
  • E. "Tough, tenacious, fatally flawed candidate"

10. As of Wednesday, the South Carolina primary will be held on:

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  • A. Jan. 1
  • B. Jan. 20
  • C. Dec. 24
  • D. Dec. 16
  • E. It's a trick question, since Democrats have scheduled the primary for Jan. 29 and Republicans for Jan. 19

Match each of the following stump speech passages with the candidate who uttered it.

11. "All for Jesus. All for Jesus. All for Jesus. All for Jesus."

12. "There is this narrow window. It doesn't come around that often -- maybe once a generation -- where we have the opportunity to put our shoulder against the wheel and move history in a better direction."

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13. "We came to power in 1994 to change government and government changed us."

14. "I'm no superman. What I've learned by managing things is the key is bringing good people together."

15. "I am committed to doing what we must in the 21st century to not just reassert America's moral authority and leadership, but to come up with innovative solutions to deal with the problems we face, because we cannot do it alone."

  • A. John McCain
  • B. Mitt Romney
  • C. Sam Brownback
  • D. Barack Obama
  • E. Hillary Clinton

16. What must-read campaign blog has Hillary Clinton communications director Howard Wolfson called the "new purveyor of conventional wisdom"?

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  • A. The Drudge Report
  • B. Marc Ambinder at the Atlantic
  • C. Ben Smith at the Politico
  • D. Chris Cillizza at the Washington Post
  • E. Taegan Goddard's Political Wire

17. Which of Mitt Romney's five sons says "Braveheart" is a favorite movie, says "my dad" is his hero, enjoys water-skiing, snow skiing and reading, and recently visited each of Iowa's 99 counties in an R.V.?

  • A. Tagg
  • B. Matt
  • C. Ben
  • D. Josh
  • E. Craig

18. Flip Romney is:

  • A. The sixth Romney son, who is gay
  • B. The nickname for Mitt Romney, given by his wife, Ann, after he made the whole family pancakes
  • C. A talking dolphin who shows up at campaign events
  • D. The nickname for Romney's favorite granddaughter, who is a gymnast
  • E. The dance move Romney breaks out after eating fried Twinkies on a stick

19. Which of the following is not the name of a city or town in Iowa?

  • A. Oak Bluffs, home of the 400-pound wax ball
  • B. Oskaloosa, "The Place to Stop, Shop, Play, Stay"
  • C. Ottumwa, former home of the Ottumwa Box Car Loader Co.
  • D. Osage, former home of 19th century author Hamlin Garland
  • E. Oelwein, former site of the Chicago Great Western Railway repair shop

Match each of the following passages of canonical campaign reportage to its author:

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20. "For years I've regarded [Richard Nixon's] very existence as a monument to all the rancid genes and broken chromosomes that corrupt the possibilities of the American Dream; he was a foul caricature of himself, a man with no soul, no inner convictions, with the integrity of a hyena and the style of a poison toad."

21. "It occurred to me during the summer of 1988, in California and Atlanta and New Orleans, in the course of watching first the California primary and then the Democratic and Republican national conventions, that it had not been by accident that the people with whom I had preferred to spend time in high school had, on the whole, hung out in gas stations."

22. "People are unpredictable by nature, and although you can take a nation's pulse, you can't be sure that the nation hasn't just run up a flight of stairs, and although you can take a nation's blood pressure, you can't be sure that if you came back in twenty minutes you'd get the same reading. This is a damn fine thing."

23. "The likeliest reason why so many of us care so little about politics is that modern politicians make us sad, hurt us deep down in ways that are hard even to name, much less talk about. It's way easier to roll your eyes and not give a shit. You probably don't want to hear about all this, even."

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24. Warren G. Harding "writes the worst English I have ever encountered. It reminds me of a string of wet sponges; it reminds me of tattered washing on the line; it reminds me of stale bean-soup, of college yells, of dogs barking idiotically through endless nights."

  • A. H.L. Mencken
  • B. Hunter Thompson
  • C. E.B. White
  • D. Joan Didion
  • E. David Foster Wallace

25. Former presidential candidate Tommy Thompson sometimes traveled with a motorcycle gang of supporters who wore black T-shirts embossed with what slogan?

  • A. "One of our own"
  • B. "Open road to the White House"
  • C. "Tommy Thompson: The legend rolls on"
  • D. "Tommy Thompson: He's got the chopper"
  • E. "Eat my rubber, Brownback"

26. Which senior campaign official is so afraid of flying that he regularly drives to events as far away as Iowa?

  • A. Rick Davis, campaign manager for John McCain
  • B. Ben Ginsberg, campaign attorney for Mitt Romney
  • C. Howard Wolfson, communications director for Hillary Clinton
  • D. David Axelrod, chief political advisor for Barack Obama
  • E. Rob Wasinger, campaign manager for Sam Brownback

27. Which presidential candidate brought an Elvis impersonator from Texas to perform for voters at the Republican Iowa straw poll?

  • A. Tommy "Spinout" Thompson
  • B. John "Roustabout" Cox
  • C. Duncan "GI Blues" Hunter
  • D. Ron "Follow That Dream" Paul
  • E. Mike "Love Me Tender" Huckabee

28. Why has Rudy Giuliani been photographed repeatedly while dressed as a woman?

  • A. As mayor of New York, he wanted the Greenwich Village vote
  • B. It was Halloween
  • C. He was performing on "Saturday Night Live" and for charity dinners
  • D. It made New York safer
  • E. He just adores haute couture

29. In his 1995 memoir, "Dreams From My Father," Barack Obama admits to:

  • A. Subscribing to Playboy
  • B. Changing his middle name from Jefferson to Hussein
  • C. Knowing all the words to "Sweet Child o' Mine"
  • D. Embellishing his résumé to get into Harvard Law School
  • E. Trying marijuana and cocaine

Extra credit (because no one can be expected to get it right):

30. Romney's traveling press secretary is a former statehouse bureau chief for the Boston Herald named Eric ...

  • A. Fehrnstrom
  • B. Fernstrom
  • C. Fernshtrom
  • D. Fernsthrum
  • E. Ferhnhstrom

Answers are on Page 3.

Here's how to score your answers:

0-5 correct. Cub. Give it a few years. You are not yet ready for the trail.

6-15 correct. Up-and-comer. Occasional campaign bus rides allowed.

16-25 correct. Trail ready. Head for the Iowa State Fair.

26-30 correct. Top-tier pencil. You are in a select group. Go scoop the New York Times.

1. D -- iPhone

2. D -- Clean, articulate

3. B -- Lebowski

4. C -- Gas station

5. D -- Lieberman

6. A -- Carter

7. C -- Dog on roof

8. C and E -- Clinton and Thompson

9. E -- Fatally flawed

10. E -- Trick question

11. C -- Brownback

12. D -- Obama

13. A -- McCain

14. B -- Romney

15. E -- Clinton

16. B -- Ambinder, though this fact has not been previously reported

17. D -- Josh

18. C -- Talking dolphin

19. A -- Oak Bluffs

20. B -- Thompson

21. D -- Didion

22. C -- White

23. E -- Wallace

24. A -- Mencken

25. A -- One of our own

26. C -- Wolfson

27. C -- Duncan Hunter

28. C -- "SNL" and charity dinners

29. E -- Marijuana and cocaine

30. A -- Fehrnstrom, go figure


Michael Scherer

Michael Scherer is Salon's Washington correspondent. Read his other articles here.

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