Maddow and Martha

On Election Day, the two women discuss their nervousness, the MSNBC host's interview with Barack Obama and, of course, cocktails.

By Rebecca Traister

Published November 4, 2008 6:30PM (EST)

Martha Stewart spoke for many of us today, when on her daytime talk show, she told her guest, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow, "I'm a nervous wreck. I'm as nervous as can be today."

Tell me about it!

Stewart, a longtime Democratic donor, had already had an Election Day headache: Somebody messed with her voting, and she was none too pleased about it. Stewart opened her show by describing how she arrived at her polling place in Katonah, N.Y., soon after it had opened. "There were some people there already at 6 a.m.," she said. But when Stewart went to pull the lever, she discovered that her district's voting machine had already broken. "I started to hyperventilate, because we're hearing about how our voting structure is broken in this country and I thought, 'Oh my gosh, even in my own hometown, it's broken." Stewart used a paper ballot, and watched as it was put in a white envelope, then that envelope was put in a brown envelope. "I asked about three people, 'Now, how is that vote going to be counted?'" said Stewart. "And there were no real good answers. I left quite upset, but quiet. I did not raise my voice and nobody did. Everybody was very polite. That's the way we have to be." Instead, Stewart dealt with her election anxieties by sending an e-mail to everyone in her company, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, telling them to vote and to prepare to wait in long lines.

Stewart then brought on Maddow, whom she said she'd "discovered by accident three or four weeks ago, channel surfing at 11 o'clock at night," and whom she's "been watching like an addict ever since." Stewart's typically astute, boiled-down description of Maddow? "An intelligent-looking woman with big black glasses." Maddow was sporting her specs in the daytime, though she doesn't on her evening show, since as she told Stewart, the frames reflect and make her look "a little Liberace-ish."

Stewart commenced with one of her patented, sometimes awkward, often refreshingly direct interviews with Maddow, telling the host that during her interview with Barack Obama last week, she'd seemed nervous, "which didn't seem to fit your character." Maddow explained that she usually gets nervous after a stressful task, but that in this case, the Obama security rigamarole had lasted for so long that she was already clammy-palmed by the time she sat down with him.

Then both women -- both policy geeks -- commiserated over the general lack of information about the candidates' views on things like the infrastructure and electric grid. "Every time policy comes up it's treated as if it's some sort of gotcha or some kind of arcana," said Maddow. When Stewart asked Maddow to make a prediction about tonight, the MSNBC host called herself "a notoriously bad predictor," said she's not writing John McCain off, "even though everyone in the world says this is Barack Obama's election to lose." Maddow added that she came to work yesterday with a bag packed, in case a contested election issue takes her out of town. She added that she also brought a hanky, since whatever happens, at the end of this day -- or this election, should it be contested -- we are going to have a woman vice president for the first time or an African-American president for the first time, and after all the focus on the electoral horse race fades, "I think the historical importance of what's happened is going to hit us like a ton of bricks."

Then the women got back to worrying about the voting machines, and Stewart revealed that her daughter Alexis' machine in New York was also broken this morning. Stewart sniffed that she had accompanied her parents to every single election of her lifetime, and that "the voting machine was never broken in Nutley, N.J."

"We have let that system degrade," said Maddow. "The same way we've let many of our systems degrade."

The only thing left was to make a drink, something Maddow, an accomplished amateur mixologist, is very good at. Noting that the long night ahead made it a highball kind of day, she offered instructions for a "Joe Rickey": two ounces of bourbon in a tall glass over ice topped off with seltzer water and the juice of half a lime. "Is it a Joe Rickey as in Joe the Plumber?" asked Stewart. Maddow laughed. "We could call it a Wurzelbacher Rickey!"

Stewart just took a sip. "It's very delicious," she said. "I think I'll start now, and keep filling the glass till midnight tonight."

Sounds like a good idea to me.

Rebecca Traister

Rebecca Traister writes for Salon. She is the author of "Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women" (Free Press). Follow @rtraister on Twitter.

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2008 Elections Martha Stewart Rachel Maddow War Room