The Daily Princetonian: What has been your experience covering this election season?
Kristen Welker: It’s hard to boil it down to one experience because there have been so many twists and turns. I covered 2012, and this is by far the most extraordinary election season I think any of us could have ever imagined. I have been with Hillary Clinton from the very beginning, and I think from the moment that email controversy broke we all realized this was not going to be an ordinary race. The fact that Donald Trump — a political outsider — won the [Republican] nomination, and the fact that he is now close in the polls days before Election Day and there have been so many controversies on both sides, from the primary until now. It just makes it one of the most unique races in modern history, I think. But it has been exciting, exhilarating, non-stop, and I think that there is something unique about covering the first woman to win the nomination of a major party. So that, in and of itself, from my perspective, has made it incredibly unique and compelling.
DP: In your opinion, why should people — particularly young people — go vote?
KW: I think it’s so important that everyone who’s eligible to vote lets their voice be heard. There is so much at stake in this election and in every election, everything from the economy, to who will be the next Supreme Court justice, the way that we want to approach taxes and healthcare. And people fought and died for the right to vote, so I think that in and of itself is an important reason to go and vote. But beyond that, it impacts all of our lives, particularly young people, and it’s about participating in our democracy. So I would just encourage everyone who’s eligible to vote to go and vote, particularly young people, because they’re just starting out. And I know that you all are dealing with things like college work and college debt, thinking about your first job and your career. All of those issues are being talked about and debated in this election. And so I think it’s vitally important that young people go vote.
DP: What would you say are Hillary Clinton’s primary policy issues in her campaign?
KW: I have been covering her since day one, and she started her campaign talking about criminal justice reform. She has talked a lot about healthcare, how she wants to improve the healthcare system. She’s talked a lot about how she wants to make life and work easier and fairer for working women. Donald Trump has also laid out his own policy proposals for critical issues. And I think those are the issues that are defining this election in many ways, but obviously there’re the large issues, issues like immigration, where Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are on completely opposite ends of the spectrum … National security — they have two completely different visions. And so, I think this race to some extent has taken on a different shape because of the debate that we’re having about things like immigration and citizenship, and who should be let into the country to live here and who should be allowed to visit, on who we are as a nation. And so I think that her issues started out as one thing, and they sort of morphed into and evolved into a whole host of new topics that I think even she probably couldn’t have anticipated she would be focused on at this point.
DP: Are there any reasons to believe that Secretary Clinton’s most recent email controversy will affect her in the coming days?
KW: It’s hard to tell. The polls are definitely getting tighter, there’s no doubt about that. Her campaign would argue that the polls are getting tighter because polls get tighter when you get closer to Election Day. It is also true, though, that she had a pretty significant lead both nationally and in a number of battleground states prior to the [James] Comey announcement. So it’s hard to think that it’s not impacting people, and I’ve been out there on the campaign trail talking to people who some say it’s ridiculous and that it’s not going to impact her at all, and then some who say it is making it tougher for them to make a decision about who to vote for. Is it going to impact her supporters? No. Is it going to change the minds of Trump supporters? No. I think it could impact those undecided voters. The question remains, though, how many voters were still undecided at the time the Comey announcement came out?
DP: As the polls tighten as we get closer to Election Day, to what extent does the Democratic Party have a strong hold on swing states?
KW: I think they have a firm hold on a number of the swing states. Pennsylvania, for example, I was there earlier today and while Secretary Clinton still has a lead, it is narrowing. A state like New Hampshire is all tied up, she shows a very strong lead in New Hampshire. Florida is going to be very close. Virginia, I think is going to be close. She has a lead, but I think it’s a marginal lead, and I think that’s what makes the race so competitive and what makes everyone say ‘We don’t know how it’s going to turn out.’ A couple of weeks ago, a lot of people were thinking she would win on Election Day, and now there’s much more uncertainty about that.
DP: To what extent might the population of “Bernie or Bust” people or those that favor third party candidates take away votes from the Democratic or Republican parties?
KW: Well, polls show that a majority of Bernie Sanders supporters were planning to vote for Hillary Clinton. The question is will that actually bear out on Election Day. And that is a critical question, because a lot of Bernie Sanders supporters are younger, millennial voters. Are they going to actually go to the polls and vote, or will some of them say they’re so fed up with the system and stay home? There will be some who decide to stay home and not go vote, there will be some who vote for Trump. If our polls are accurate, many of them, if not most of them, will vote for Hillary Clinton. But again, that’s one of the great unknowns. We just don’t know, ultimately, how that will play out on Election Day, and that’s going to be one of the key indicators that we’re watching early on in the night — how are the younger, Bernie Sanders supporters trending, and that might give us a window into how she does in some of these critical swing states.