A TFAS Alumna’s Life on the Campaign Trail

Written by Joe Starrs, Director – Institute on Political Journalism and US Programs

Since TFAS alumna Samantha Jo Roth completed the DC INTERNSHIPS Capital Semester Program a few years ago, she has not slowed down one bit. Samantha-Jo has been covering the 2016 Presidential race for over a year as a multimedia reporter for the Huffington Post. Her work has appeared on a variety of news programs including: The Huffington Post, WOI-TV in Des Moines, ABCNews.com, CNN.com, Washington Week and CBS Evening News. Samantha-Jo grew up in Scottsdale, AZ and graduated magna cum laude from the Honors College at the University of Arizona, with a degree in political science and a minor in international reporting. We caught up with her last week and asked her what it’s been like to cover the race to the White House.

What was the best part of being on the Campaign Trail?

This picture was taken right before the Democratic Presidential debate in Des Moines, Iowa on November 14, 2015.

This picture was taken right before the Democratic Presidential debate in Des Moines, Iowa on November 14, 2015.


The best aspect of being on the campaign trail is being able to assess everything happening on the ground first-hand. I enjoy talking to voters, traveling to campaign field offices and discussing strategy with staffers. Being on the ground gives me the opportunity to discover trends and themes often far before any polls or pundits spot them. For example, as I traveled across the state of Iowa with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX.) in early January, I began to realize that he was gaining the support of voters who previously supported Donald Trump and Ben Carson. It was a trend that wasn’t really acknowledged until right before the Iowa caucus on February 1.

As I’ve traveled around the country, the story line continues to shift. Each state, town and city is completely different than the next, and I work hard to highlight local color and context.

Covering the Kansas caucus on March 5, 2016.

Covering the Kansas caucus on March 5, 2016.

What were some tough times covering the Presidential campaign?
Covering the Presidential campaign has been such a privilege, but I have to admit it’s a tough lifestyle. The schedule is inconsistent, there’s a lot of traveling involved and it’s exhausting. I have been covering the election as a one-woman band – shooting, writing, reporting and live-tweeting as I go. It’s difficult sometimes, but I know the skills I’ve developed this cycle will benefit me as I move forward in my career.

 

Was there anything in particular that surprised you?
I’ve been covering the election for over a year, far before any of these candidates even announced they were running. In that time, I’ve gotten to know some of them really well, and at first I was really surprised. Several candidates know me by name, and have even approached me on the trail wanting to talk about one of my stories. It’s pretty amazing to know that my work is being seen by such a large audience, including the candidate I’m covering. I have also had the opportunity to attend a few off-the-record dinners with both candidates and their staff. Those experiences are rare but especially rewarding.

Here I am on Ted Cruz's right during a press gaggle following a campaign event at a shooting range in December.

Here I am on Ted Cruz’s right during a press gaggle following a campaign event at a shooting range in December.

Any funny stories you’d like to share?
I have so many stories, but one of my favorites was when I covered former Governor Rick Perry early in the cycle. Every time I interviewed him, he would say, “Samantha-Jo, with a name like that you belong in Texas.” It happened so often that his staff apologized to me, but I thought it was so funny.

Follow Samantha Jo on Twitter: @SamanthaJoRoth

For more information on our summer and semester programs, please visit www.DCinternships.org

 

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