Bill Hemmer will have a role in telling the nation a very big story on Tuesday night. To do so, he has a lot of smaller tales the must relate.
As the co-anchor of “America’s Newsroom” each weekday morning, Hemmer is a steady presence on Fox News Channel. Tomorrow night, however, with results of the U.S. presidential election rolling in, Hemmer will have a distinct presence in primetime. As he has for the past several cycles, Hemmer will man what is known at Fox News as the “Bill-board” – an interactive electronic screen that tells viewers what’s happening everywhere from Delaware County, Iowa, to Warren, Ohio.
Each piece of geography Hemmer examines will have some bearing on the intense rivalry between Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump. He and a team of Fox News contributors, including Karl Rove, Chris Stirewalt and Lisa Boothe, among others, will be first to glean trends and movements by examining very granular evidence which candidate is gaining support in specific geographic locales.
“These elections can take funny turns,” noted Hemmer, 51 years old, during a recent interview in his office in Fox News headquarters in New York. “You tell the story through the graphics and through the numbers.”
But he also must commit to memory details about the economic base of small counties in Pennsylvania, Florida and elsewhere. Any of them might be the pivot point for a candidates’s victory. “There’s a county her in Iowa, Delaware County, where they voted for Mitt Romney by a whopping 20 votes over Barack Obama. There were 9000 votes cast. So what does Trump do there.?Is it 51 to 49? Or is it 60 to 40? And if it’s 60 to 40, he’s going to win, in all likelihood, a state like Iowa. Washington County, southwest of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Steel. Coal. White. What happens there? These other counties on the Ohio border that are as blue as blue. Is there a certain part of that population that crosse over? Delaware County, north of Columbus. It’s fast growing, highly educated, affluent. They went for Romney in a big way four years ago, 70%. Are they going to go for 70%/ And if they don’t, if Trump’s going to win it, he’s going to have to find votes somewhere else.”
Knowing these details – who is voting, why they might vote the way they do and how they voted in the past – are essential on an Election Night broadcast, Hemmer said. No one wants to call a state incorrectly, even though the temptation to read the tea leaves before rivals get to them is ever-present.
“It’s great to be first,” said Hemmer, “but you want to be correct.”
Grappling with data was at the root of one of the most memorable moments in Fox News history. In November of 2012, Megyn Kelly pushed back on an assertion from Rove that Ohio had not yet tipped in favor of Obama and that calls that Obama won the election were premature. Kelly took a long walk through the halls of Fox News while still on camera to get to Fox producers keeping tabs on voting, They stood by their call for Obama to carry the night.
Hemmer has spent years sending dispatches from interesting places and milieu. Early in his career, he abandoned what he said had been a “dream job” as a sports broadcaster for WCPO, then a Cincinnati CBS affiliate – for the chance to travel around the world. A Cincinnati native, Hemmer loved covering the Bengals and the Reds, but realized the job wasn’t going to take him anywhere else. So he saved $15,000 and negotiated a deal that would have him send his takes on his travels through India, eastern Europe, Vietnam and Russia to WCPO as well as the now-defunct Cincinnati Post. The pay, Hemmer recalled, was not substantial, but he got a free camera out of the deal. Even so, he said he ended up spending $3,000 more than he had.
The travels served him in good stead when he returned top the U.S. An agent got him an audition at CNN, where an executive asked him to list on the back of his resume all the countries through which he had traveled.
Hemmer’s journey will on Tuesday night take him to a new $30 million studio Fox News has built and began using formally on Sunday. Hemmer and his team will perch in the mezzanine, sifting through the results and looking for clues. “The fascinating aspect of that part of the job is you get the data before anyone else,” he noted. It’s then his responsibility to use graphics to make the information of top interest to viewers, being ready all the while in case a glitch in the software leaves him having to abandon his on-set screen.
“It takes practice and memory,” said Hemmer. “You don’t want to screw it up.”