My arrival on the campaign trail this week for Salon should help solve one of the great mysteries of the last few years -- am I kryptonite for presidential campaigns?
Starting in 2002, I covered three would-be presidents of the United States for their hometown papers, working for the Washington bureau of the Gannett chain. Every one of them was near the peak of their political career when I started each beat. None of them was when I finished.
I began following Tom Daschle's career for the Sioux Falls (S.D.) Argus Leader three months before Republicans swept Senate control away from him. In early 2003, two colleagues and I co-wrote a story reporting that Daschle had told friends and allies that he would run for president -- which ran the morning Daschle changed his mind and announced he would stay in the Senate. By the time I stopped writing about South Dakota, Daschle had been knocked out of office by Republican John Thune, the first Senate party leader to lose a reelection campaign since Arizona's Ernest McFarland in 1952.
Bill Frist came next. As the Washington correspondent for Gannett's Nashville, Tenn., paper, I joined him on a February 2005 trip to New Hampshire. It was the first stage in what many people expected to be a triumphant Frist campaign for the GOP nomination the following year. But then came the fight over Terri Schiavo's life, and Frist's clumsy, long-distance video diagnosis. And the compromise that kept Frist from ending Senate filibusters for judicial nominees, which could have made him a hero to social conservatives. And a scandal over Frist's sale of stock in the massive hospital chain his family founded. When Frist finally quit the GOP race, former Daschle aides were sure I was cursed and began nervously asking if I would be assigned to cover campaigns they were working for.
For two years after that, I mostly wrote about immigration and border security, and the world of presidential politics carried on, curse free. Then, this past April, I started doing some coverage of John McCain's campaign for the Arizona Republic -- just in time for his fundraising to dry up, his staff to implode, and his standing in the polls to slide from front-runner to bottom feeder. It was all a surprise to some observers, but not to anyone who knew my career path. Sure, McCain is turning things around now, but another reporter picked up most of the coverage of his recovery.
So now here I am, joining Walter Shapiro to roam through Iowa, New Hampshire and other early voting states. The luck I've brought candidates can't last -- no matter how muddled the field looks now, someone's got to win this thing, both for the Democrats and the Republicans. (But I'll be carefully cross-referencing my travel schedule against sudden slumps by candidates I write about, just in case.) At any rate, I'm glad to be here, and I can't wait to see what happens next.