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Fox Election Coverage: ‘This Race Could Be Turning Right Now’

After a campaign that made media coverage an election issue, Variety examines the spin throughout Election Day across major TV news outlets.

6:17 p.m. PT: Kelly is bracing for a long night. She wonders out loud whether she’ll make it to her scheduled guest co-hosting gig tomorrow morning opposite Kelly Ripa on the syndicated morning show “Live with Kelly.” “I’m starting to worry about whether I’m going to make my hit,” she said. If she’s right, Ripa’s pal Anderson Cooper may also be out of the question for “Live” too.

6:05 p.m. PT: Chris Wallace, clearly surprised: “I’m starting to become open to the possibility that Donald Trump could be the next president of the United States. … He is still in this and I’m not sure a lot of us thought he would be at this time.”

5:55 p.m. PT: Kelly’s even more revved up. “We might be looking at another 2000” in Florida, citing the contested Gore-Bush election. As if that weren’t ominous enough she shouted: “We only have eight justices and we need nine!”

5:48 p.m. PT: “This race could be turning right now,” Kelly declares, citing the inability to call states like Virginia and Pennsylvania that were expected to be comfortable Clinton wins.

Donald Trump is hanging tough in all these states,” Baier said. When it comes to analyzing Florida, they’re zeroing in county-by-county. Democratic supporter Richard Fowler talks about Clinton’s superior ground game in Florida. Huckabee countered: “You’ve given people a sandwich, a shot of rye whiskey and a ride to the polls” but the race remains close.

5:20 p.m. PT: So many numbers rolling in fast and furious, so many talking heads. Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer argues with Bill O’Reilly on the state of the race in Florida. “That is not a dead heat,” Krauthammer said after O’Reilly declared the Sunshine State to be so.

Perhaps the bigger victory on the Fox News set was the fact that anchor Bill Hemmer and contributor Karl Rove dug up an old-fashioned white board and old-fashioned black marker to help viewers keep track of the most contended states, or the “swinging trio” of Ohio, Florida and North Carolina. In a tight shot, it’s more effective than the tall rectangular digital display dubbed by Kelly “the tower of power” that displays the states as they are called.

4:03 p.m. PT: And so it begins. Fox News puts Kentucky and Indiana to the Trump column, Vermont to Clinton. Kelly compliments the Fox News Decision Desk on its use of adjectives like “vanquished” in calling some of the down ballot races.

And still they’re on about the new studio, with Kelly and Baier joking that after a $30 million refurb they can’t find a white board and a Sharpie to keep tabs on results. “Fifty feet of digital walls!” Baier exclaimed.

3:38 p.m. PT: Brit Hume for the most Dan Rather-esque line so far on Fox News: Noting that exit polls indicated a close race in Texas and Georgia: “There are places on the map that we haven’t been talking about that could throw either candidate’s plans into a cocked hat,” he said.

3:10 p.m. PT: Fox News is loving the gigantic LED screens in its refurbished Studio F where Kelly, Baier and others will preside over tonight’s coverage.

“The long, winding road to the White House ends here,” Kelly intoned at the top of the hour. After some discussion of the election dynamics, Baier enthused to viewers about the new “state of the art” studio facility complete with 46 digital displays and a 9-by-30 foot “media wall.”

With all the swirling video content on the screens, Chris Wallace quipped: “Did anybody bring the Dramamine?” It is awfully busy, and the color scheme: Not subtle.

Kelly pointed out what she called “the circle of doom” circular spinning video fixture hanging above the main anchor desk. “I just want to get up there and do the Hustle,” she said. Anchor Shannon Bream called it a “digital chandelier” that was used to show off tweets and Instagram postings from everyday voters.

2:57 p.m. PT: As Megyn Kelly and Bret Baier prepare to take over for the Main Event, “The Five” closes with the hosts’ non-prediction predictions for the rest of the night. Gutfeld has advice for Democrats and Republicans. “For Democrats, figure out how to talk to white men. For Republicans, figure out how to talk to everyone else,” he said.

2:10 p.m. PT: Hallelujah, there’s finally something really new to talk about: exit poll data. The first numbers trickled in as “The Five” talk show was just getting starting from an unusual setting — in the plaza outside Fox News headquarters on Sixth Avenue.

The five hosts — Dana Perino, Eric Bolling, Juan Williams, Greg Gutfeld and Kimberly Guilfoyle — were set up on director’s chairs set up just a stone’s throw from the New York Hilton, where Trump will hold his event tonight. The crowd that gathered around was sometimes uncooperative on the noise front. The camera quickly panned to a small group of people waving gigantic foam fingers embossed with “The Five” logo.

Anchor Martha MacCallum broke in to deliver the first wave of exit poll tidbits. The first offerings: 62% of those polled said last week’s news about the discovery of new Clinton emails bothered them, while 71% of voters were bothered by Trump’s “treatment of women.” MacCallum noted a big increase from 2012 in the percentage of voters (25%) who said they were motivated to vote for a candidate because they “dislike” the others. And she noted a surprising surge in support for Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson among voters who described themselves as “late deciders.”

In the three hours since MacCallum was on-air grappling with the Trump telephone interview, she changed from a white sheath dress to a bright red frock.

12 p.m. PT: Shepard Smith arrives on “Shepard Smith Reporting” with his usual exuberance and candor. “At last, it’s almost over,” he said. We learn he voted shortly before 7 a.m. ET at a packed but very orderly polling place in Greenwich Village. “It ran like a Chipotle,” he said.

At the top of the show, the camera lingered on a live shot of “Trump Force 2” landing at LaGuardia Airport with vice presidential candidate Mike Pence and his family aboard. Shep tells us the whole Pence clan visited Fox News last week and were “just as nice as could be.”

Still, Shep acknowledges that as the clock ticks down: “I’d rather be in Hillary Clinton’s place than (Trump) but we don’t know.” Republican strategist and Trump supporter Ed Rollins dryly admits that Trump needs a “miracle” to pull out an electoral college win. Focusing on Florida, Shep plainly states that the surge of early voting by Latino voters in the state is surely significant.

Chris Wallace is also back to help Smith pass the time talking but the conversation quickly devolves into Shep’s love of Chapstick. How many hours until the first polls close?

11:10 a.m. PT: Trump calls in to “America’s Election HQ,” busting into anchor Martha MacCallum’s point-counterpoint interview with Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell and Gov. Mike Huckabee. Trump again refused to commit to accepting the results of today’s vote when pressed by MacCallum and made several mentions of the “rigged system” in connecting with voting and his opponent.

“We’ll see. Who knows? We’ll see,” Trump said. “We’re going to see how things play out today. Hopefully they’ll play out well. Hopefully we’ll win… Hopefully everything’s going to be on the straight and up.”

Trump cited the lawsuit filed by his campaign in Nevada today alleging irregularities in the early voting last week in the state with people being allowed to vote who were not in line when the polls formally closed. “They felt it was a pretty bad situation,” Trump said of his campaign team in the state. “Harry Reid, he plays pretty fast and loose, let’s face it.”

“We have a very, very serious situation with the whole process,” Trump said. He told MacCallum that he’s heard of reports of entire ballots switching from Republican to Democrat. “The machine puts it down as Republican and it registers as a Democrat,” he said.

When pressed again by MacCallum about the tradition of the peaceful transfer of power via the ballot box, Trump assured MacCallum: “I was very good in history. I fully understand it. It’s very important in so many different ways,” he said. And in the same breath: “It’s largely a rigged system, you see it at the polling booths.”

10:45 a.m. PT: We learn that today is Eric and Lara Trump’s wedding anniversary. “Choosing a president is almost as important as choosing the right president,” “Happening Now’s” Lee gushes while interviewing Lara Trump, a North Carolina native.

“It was a very special feeling” getting to vote for your father-in-law, Lara Trump responded, citing the “movement created behind him.” She ticked off a string of Trump campaign talking points against Clinton and assured Lee that “as nasty as it’s gotten” during the past 18 months, the campaign has brought her extended family closer together.

10 a.m. PT: In general, the tilt of much of the coverage and commentary is that Trump still has a shot.

At the top of “Happening Now,” Wall Street Journal deputy editorial page editor Dan Henninger predicts that even Republicans who dislike Trump will be “coming home” today to vote for him to prevent a Clinton presidency. Voters are “disgusted” and “dispirited” by the bruising campaign but still may find renewed motivation on Election Day.

“A lot of voters understand that you’re not just getting a personality with your votes, you’re getting a political party,” Henninger said. “Whatever their feelings about Donald Trump personally, they cannot abide four more years of a Democratic Party that has been taken much further left” than the Clinton administration of the 1990s.

“Happening Now’s” Jon Scott is anchoring from Columbus, Ohio while Jenna Lee is in Raleigh, N.C. Henry Gomez, political reporter for the Plain Dealer, tells Scott that Trump’s lack of support from the Ohio GOP establishment — starting with his former primary foe Gov. John Kasich, could hurt his chances of taking the state that is seen as a must-win for his campaign. In North Carolina, Lee has fielded Trump campaign reps and Democratic operatives arguing that the indications from early voting favors their candidates.

Earlier, Harris Faulkner, Bret Baier and the other hosts of the in-studio couch show “Outnumbered” parsed the question of the Senate and House races will shake out and the post-election fallout for both parties. Baier emphasized that the liberal wing of the Democrats — repped by Chuck Schumer, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren — will lead to a “fight in the Democratic Party.” Faulkner ended the show by breathlessly reminding viewers that Baier and Megyn Kelly will anchor the election results coverage beginning at 6 p.m. ET.

As the morning wears on, Fox News is getting more relentless with the red-white-and-blue branding bumpers: “America’s Election HQ.” “America’s Choice.” “Now It’s America’s Turn.” And every so often “ALERT” flies across the screen, for no apparent breaking news reason.

8 a.m. PT: Donald Trump’s disregard for the mainstream media seemed evident in the choppy footage of him casting his vote at an elementary school in midtown Manhattan. The camera work was shaky and struggled to keep up with Trump and his family as they walked toward the voting booths. Clearly there was no advance stage-managing for the camera pool.

7:30 a.m. PT: As polls open on the West Coast, the tone on Fox News Channel is decidedly dour.

The focus from “America’s Newsroom” anchors Bill Hemmer and Martha MacCallum has been on the extremely polarizing nature of the 2016 presidential campaign and the prospect that either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton will gridlock in Washington. The countdown clock to the closing of the first polls on the East Coast adds a tick-tock urgency behind commentary about what a difficult slog the campaign has been, particularly in the past few months.

“I’m glad it’s over,” Chris Wallace, anchor of “Fox News Sunday,” told Hemmer and MacCallum. “It’s not been an elevating experience for Americans.”

The question of whether Trump can find a path to victory has gotten a lot of airtime, with a big dose of skepticism from various commentators. MacCallum emphasized that it’s “a fairly tight race.” Byron York, a writer for Washington Examiner, asserted “it’s very, very hard for him to get there.” The consensus is that the holy trinity for a Trump victory is taking Florida, Ohio and North Carolina.

Rich Lowry of the National Review declared “the tragedy of Trump” being the fact that the divisive tone of his rhetoric alienated working-class voters of color who might have otherwise responded to his populist message.

Howard Kurtz, host of Fox News’ “Media Buzz,” took the mainstream press corp to the woodshed in a segment that examined how media coverage of the candidates itself became a campaign issue.

“It would be hard to give the media high marks in this campaign,” Kurtz said, noting that reporting has been “easily distracted by insults versus issues.” The fallout from the media-bashing across the political spectrum, with invective stirred by social media: “I’ve never seen this level of animosity toward those of us who are at least trying to get it right,” he said.

Songwriters poised to clean up today from TV royalties: Phil Collins (“In the Air Tonight,” Genesis’ “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight”), David Bowie (“Changes”), Will.i.am et al (“I Gotta Feeling”).

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