Sky News Presenter Jeremy Thompson On US Presidential Elections

Posted on: 29 October 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

Shocks, surprises and snow on the US campaign trail

It was bone-chilling cold. Minus 18C°. I was standing ankle deep in snow on a remote windswept farm in Iowa when this man pulled a gun on me.

He was old and gnarled and bristly, with a steely intensity in his ice-blue eyes.

"Whoever I vote for has to uphold my right to bear arms. That's all I'm asking," thundered farmer Joe. It turned out he had another 300 guns at home. A passion for weapons and a passion for politics!

It was fascinating, if a little unnerving, testing out America's voting intentions down on the farm in Oskaloosa. But in the run-up to the first Caucus of this campaign back in January it was clear this was going to be no ordinary election year.

sky_news_us_elections_200x153It might be a flat, rural backwater of a state 1000 miles from Washington DC, but the folk of Iowa were right up to speed on the people and the issues that would dominate their search for a President in 2008. Then they had plenty of choices - more than any American voter before - a woman, an African-American, a Mormon, a Baptist preacher and in John McCain, potentially the oldest ever US President.

Iowa surprisingly backed Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton for the Democrats and started the Illinois Senator's historic run for the White House. Since then it's been a non-stop roller-coaster ride.

It reminded me of my first US Election campaigns back in the 90s. Then I was reporting on the emergence of Bill Clinton, another relative unknown on the national stage, who fought off allegations about his sex life, dubbed himself the Comeback Kid and beat all the big names of the day to secure the Presidency.

I can recall another bitter, snow blown day on the election trail, this time in New Hampshire in February 1996 when I thought I was about to witness another upset. Clinton was up for re-election and the Republicans were determined to oust him from the White House.

Their best bet looked to be Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole. But as the Primary vote was announced at a local school, there was a surprise winner - the one-time Richard Nixon speechwriter and now TV political pundit, Pat Buchanan. And nobody looked more shocked than feisty old Pat himself. As he stepped out into the freezing night air, I pointed my microphone in his direction and asked for his reaction.

"Well I'm almost as amazed as you guys," he spluttered. And added, with a broad grin on his face: "I guess I better take this campaign seriously now!" He went on to win three more states before conceding to Sen. Dole, who was eventually well beaten by Clinton.

The 2000 Election Campaign was perhaps the most extraordinary of them all. It was a cliff-hanger right through until polling day on 7th November - and well beyond. I was anchoring Sky News' Election Night coverage from our temporary studio in the grand old Hay Adams Hotel overlooking the White House and trying to guide viewers through results that were turning topsy-turvy in front of my very eyes.

Just after midnight London time, minutes after  ballot boxes had closed on the East Coast, the US TV news networks began reporting exit polls that suggested Democrat Vice-President Al Gore had won the crucial state of Florida. Before long they were more than hinting that Gore was well on his way to beating George W. Bush.

I remember CBS veteran Dan Rather saying on air: "This could be the closest election in 40 years. But we'd rather be last than wrong with our results."

But sure enough, CBS were soon calling it Gore's way. Then doubt began to creep in. Within two hours the networks were changing their tune. Florida was now leaning towards Bush. In fact it took another month of legal wrangling to confirm George W as President.

sky_news_us_elections_02_200x153So come 4th November this year, I'll be trying to bring you the news first, as always. But you won't catch me calling the result too soon!

Whether it's Obama or McCain you be sure it'll be as close and dramatic as ever. And all of it live on Sky News.

Jeremy Thompson will be reporting the results of the US election live from New York on Tuesday 4 and Wednesday 5 November on Sky News.

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