My night with Krystal Ball

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View of Democracy Plaza From The Cycle Window
View of Democracy Plaza From The Cycle Window

Tuesday night, as the world watched the election results from home, Krystal Ball and I hung out together for nearly 10 hours.

She’d been asked to contribute to msnbc’s coverage, and I’d been asked to contribute to her contributions. Translation: we were on call from 9AM (when we got in for The Cycle) to 3AM (when we finally left).

The Election Coverage was stocked to the brim with our network’s biggest and brightest, with the main table holding our entire prime-time lineup… and then some. Which meant there would be no room for us to sit around the studio, and we shouldn’t expect a lot of contact from the  control room until right before they needed us.

So what did we do?

We kicked it. Hard.

We were positioned on the 8th floor of 30 Rock, overlooking the rink. Which means we had the best view in the house of Democracy Plaza. Hundreds were gathered just below our windows, watching, hoping, and cheering. Every time a blue state was announced, the cheers were so loud, you could feel them through the walls. The energy was infectious. I found myself sitting at the end of my seat every time Rachel Maddow broke in or interrupted somebody to say she had an announcement.

Who would it be?  Which state?  And why do you insist on telling me that everything is either too early, or too close to call?

I noticed I was talking to myself, or throwing fist pumps, or dramatically flopping back into my chair… and when I realized this, I immediately glanced toward Krystal, hoping I hadn’t embarrassed myself. I’m a newsman, after all.

But Krystal was rapt. She was having more fun than I was. In the rush of work, and information overload, and general election raucousness… I’d forgotten: Krystal has lived this. She’s been a candidate waiting for the votes to roll in. She’s enjoyed the kind of high that can be experienced only during the culmination of long, hard work. And she’s experienced the pain of that work coming up empty.

Out on the ice rink, after NBC officially called a state for Romney or Obama- a couple of people scurried out to the middle of the rink, where a map had been stenciled over the ice. They’d cover the state in either red or blue, and scurry off.

Not too long ago, I knew the kids scurrying across the ice – they were NBC Pages, friends of mine. Now, thinking about Krystal, and what it must have been like to lose an election - I pictured her holed-up in a living room, or conference room, with her advisers coloring in counties as the results came in. I imagined the disappointment. I tasted that hint of defeat creeping onto my palette.

And that’s when I it hit me. For months - even though I know the election is the biggest event in news - I felt somehow distanced from it. Maybe it’s because it’s my job, where “huge events” become normal and unspectacular. Maybe it’s because I’d been overloaded with ads and strategy and facts and figures. Maybe it’s because mass consumption of news, and writing and reading about the world’s harshest realities anesthetizes you a little more than we’d like to admit. But in that moment, I realized just how invested I was in this election.

They summoned us in to the studio to do a spot about 10 minutes before Ohio was called. Krystal was all set to talk about what an incredible night it was for women: From Warren to McCaskill, to the ousting of anti-abortion candidates…

And that’s when Rachel told us it was all over. Krystal and I celebrated in a way befitting men and women of journalism… a solemn fist bump. Briefly, I thought Chris Matthews was going to take his shirt off, but no such luck. While Krystal and I were energized by the news, it seemed the rest of the room met it with a sigh of relief.  It felt unfair to have to sit through such big news in stiffened silence, so we headed back to our office, with the throngs of voters singing and cheering outside.

It was over an hour before our involuntary smiles relaxed. We went about piecing together the rest of the election, which seats we thought would be won and lost, sketching out what she’d say when she was finally called back to the studio. Huge day for women, huge day for progressives, huge day for the gay community, huge day for marijuana aficionados, huge day for us.

It was nearly three hours before she got on the air. Krystal strolled out and told everyone what an amazing night it was for women.

Maybe it wasn’t the headline of the evening, but momentous nonetheless. For both of us.

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My night with Krystal Ball

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