May Q&A: Political Star
If you’re into politics, Jennifer Donahue is a name you know. You’ve seen her on “Hardball,” “Anderson Cooper360” and the nightly news on all the networks. She’s widely quoted in top newspapers like the New York Times and magazines like Newsweek. Her acknowledged political acumen and her role as political director for the N.H. Institute of Politics at St. Anselm College have put her in good standing among the country’s political cognoscenti.
Do you mind being called a “talking head”?
I find the term odd, though it’s true that they only show your head on TV. The term “pundit” seems to indicate you’re some kind of sage and I don’t think I’ve earned that. I’m using political analyst now.
How hard is it to make your points in such a short amount of time?
If you only have 30 seconds to talk, it better be a good 30 seconds. My strategy is to make my most important point first and fast. When they come back to me I’ll layer the point. I really wish we had longer.
How did you get started?
I worked for C-SPAN in D.C. and was assigned to field produce the broadcast of the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill hearings in the Senate in 1991. That got me interested in what was happening behind the scenes, in gaining access to it, so I took a job as a press secretary for [U.S.] Senator Hank Brown. Before the 1996 cycle started, I went to work for CNN as a producer and interviewer for “Inside Politics.”
What brought you to N.H.?
I came here in 1999 because I wanted to cover the 2000 primary as a hands-on reporter. I worked for WNDS-TV as a reporter and for MSNBC as an on-air analyst. I also freelanced for Newsweek magazine.
You’ve interviewed many presidential candidates – what one moment stands out?
In 1999 with George W. Bush in Conway. He was on an early trip to New Hampshire and I immediately felt I was watching the next president. It was clear he had the charisma and ability to draw people in with his folksy style. By the fall, it looked like McCain would win the primary, but I thought the power of Bush’s first impression would have an effect in later states.
Politics is kind of addicting, isn’t it?
It’s one of the most complex and engaging sports, but what we’re playing for is power over the direction of our country, and to me there is no greater prize. As someone observing, I have a tremendous opportunity to see human beings try to win that prize.
Any predictions for the fall?
I try not to predict; I prefer to analyze, describe and inform. When I feel myself edging toward making predictions, that’s when I get nervous.
General thoughts on the race?
Everything we’ve seen so far has been different from what was supposed to be. I think there is a fundamental identity crisis going on in the electorate. We are as a country determining who we want to be in the 21st century. That’s why this is so long and drawn out – it’s difficult to decide.