20 Questions with Neil Cavuto

News veteran Neil Cavuto is anchoring Fox Business Network’s election-night coverage. He spoke to The Hill about how he became interested in business and political reporting — by being a nerd, he says — and how he plans to survive a long night at the anchor desk as election returns trickle in.

What was the first campaign you covered?
For a trade publication at the time, I covered the 1980 presidential campaign. I was just out of college, heading off to grad school in Washington. It was a timely experience because it not only led up to the election of Ronald Reagan, but it was a pell-mell switch on how government was seen.
It was for Investment Age magazine — a very nerdy publication to complement my nerdy credentials. I was their New York bureau chief in a bureau of two.

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What do you think are the most interesting storylines in this year’s midterm congressional elections?
Having covered a lot of tea parties, I discovered the one thing they all have in common … they hated everyone, and I meant that in the highest respect when I first said it, and now. But they really dislike spending.

I remember speaking to the California state Republican chairman at an event in Sacramento. He was getting booed by the audience around him, hearing me interview him. It was very unusual, and it would fly in the face of the people who say this is a Republican phenomenon.

They’re very much anti-establishment, and that’s why I’ve told people this is the year where, if you’re in, you’re out.

If you had to choose one race to report on right now, which one would it be?
I think the one that kind of typifies the degree of rage is the one that involves the highest figure, Harry Reid in Nevada … In any other year, [Sharron] Angle wouldn’t have a chance. She’s going up against a giant. Say what you will about Harry Reid — he is a giant … But such is the sentiment out there, that she could have a realistic chance in taking down the Senate leader.

What do you make of Meg Whitman (R), Carly Fiorina (R) and the other business candidates in this year’s races?
A lot of people criticize them, as they did [New York City Mayor Michael] Bloomberg [I] for spending so much money. They’re known in the business world, not so much in the outside world, so that’s why they have to spend so much money, for name recognition. Is it overkill? I don’t know.
People are pretty smart; if they like you, they’ll buy your message. If they don’t like you, they won’t buy your message — no matter how much money you spend.

I don’t begrudge them spending their own money on this. They’re just trying to get their name recognition. It’s their money; they get to do with it what they want. And we get to decide if they’re spending it wisely.

The one benefit [to their self-funding] is that they’re beholden to nobody … I think that is liberating, in a sense.

What’s your favorite campaign to have ever covered?
I would certainly say the last presidential campaign. I think 2008 had all the right elements and all the right drama. Barack Obama was really, when you think about it, a candidate who came out of nowhere.

Do you have any election-night rituals?
Two things: Ahead of the event, read up on everything and anything.

On the day of event, don’t drink too much. You’re in that seat [for] a while, and short of a catheter, there’s not much you can do.

Might I be like Jerry Lewis at the end of the telethon? Probably. But I promise you I won’t sing.

What’s the hardest thing about covering campaigns and election-night coverage?
My big fear is jumping to conclusions. I have a long career joke: I tend never to jump the gun. I’d rather be a little late and right than early and wrong.

I tend to pause when it comes to conventional wisdom. If everyone’s running one way, I like to run the other. As such, I don’t like to jump to conclusions. People think Republicans are going to win big on election night, and that might be the case. But these are the same people that thought Republicans were dead and buried two years ago.

Considering business and economic issues are playing a big role in campaigns this year, what are some strategies you use to explain to viewers what can be complicated financial issues?
I don’t look at business news as being about business. The dirty little secret when I was at CNBC was that very rarely did we do those things that have to do with the market. The markets intrigue me; they don’t swamp me.

So my strategy is to not treat it as business, to mainstream it. To talk about people’s taxes, the solvency of Social Security, their kids’ future.

How’d you get interested in business and political reporting?
I had no life, the truth be told. I was a kid you just assumed was a nerd, and you weren’t too far off. I can remember very much as a 9- or 10-year-old kid watching the ’68 Republican and Democratic conventions. My father would be a little worried, but he said, “Well, this is Neil dancing to the beat of a different drummer.” He would tell my mother, “Are you sure he’s ours?” I just really got into it.

Do you have any on-air bloopers that you’d like to share?
Plenty of them. You’d probably need at least another hour to talk about them. To be fair, nothing too egregious. Probably some double entendres that were not intending to be double entendres.

At one point, there was a shift going on on the Hill, and I practiced several times saying, “The shift has hit the fan.” And it came out a lot closer to the other version. And my wife called and my aunt called, and we got e-mails.

What do you like to do when you’re not working?
This sounds goofy: I just like to play with my sons. They’re 8 and 9. The weekends I have to work, I bring them in here with me, much to the delight of my staff. I just like knocking around with them. Nothing really humbles you like … your kids.

To recommend a political personality for 20 Questions, call Kris Kitto at (202)628-8539 or e-mail him at kkitto@thehill.com.