North State Journal spoke with Fox News Channel’s chief political anchor and anchor of “Special Report” Bret Baier following the Fox News Channel’s Town Hall with Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democratic candidate for president, in Raleigh. Baier, who worked at Raleigh television station WRAL in the 1990s, talked about the Super Tuesday primaries and previewed major themes of the 2020 election.
NSJ: The coronavirus seems to be at the top of everyone’s mind, as we’ve seen play out recently in the stock market. At what point would the virus become a general election issue, or are we already there?
Baier: We’re there, 100% there. Candidates are starting their stump speeches with concerns and warnings and talking about what the Trump administration is or is not doing. The administration says the Democrats are playing politics. In Washington, everything eventually gets wrapped around politics. The virus is spooking markets and it’s a major concern. The World Health Organization says it could reach pandemic levels, so we’re there.
NSJ: Where do you see North Carolina’s importance on a macro level with all of the other states in play for Super Tuesday?
Baier: I think North Carolina is important because it’s a swing state. Certainly, we’ve seen that in the last couple cycles. North Carolina is one of those states that could go either way. The RNC decided to put their convention in Charlotte. It will be important for how Joe Biden does and the other candidates remaining and gobbling up delegates at 15%. Viability is the big question, and we’ll see thinning of the herd.
NSJ: You mentioned earlier the 15% viability threshold is something to watch. Is that one thing you’re watching that hasn’t gotten enough attention nationally given there are no winner-take-all states?
Baier: It’s a big deal. You know after 2016, Bernie Sanders’ and his supporters changed the rules to move away from winner-take-all. There was the feeling that the Democrats put their hand on the scale for Hillary Clinton. This year, the primaries are proportional all the way to Milwaukee. He will have a big advantage in big states by adding delegates in all of them.
NSJ: President Trump was in South Carolina Friday and will be in North Carolina Monday. Is the president’s “counterprogramming” — staging rallies in the early voting states — working for the campaign?
Baier: I’ve watched each one of the stops, and the crowds are really big. You can estimate in the big picture, it sends a signal there are big pockets of Trump voters loyal to him in these states and elsewhere. By bouncing around Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina, North Carolina, making an impressive stop and then his reelection team makes a really polished campaign video and those ads are running in those states. It’s an impressive, effective operation from a political standpoint. We’ll see if the coronavirus and stock market end up hurting the campaign as we get further into the calendar.
NSJ: How long did you work at WRAL?
Baier: I worked at WRAL for 2 1/2 years or so. I was there from 1996 until 1998, when I left to go to the Fox News Atlanta bureau. The Fox Atlanta bureau actually started in my apartment with a fax machine and a phone. I covered state government and the legislature. I have lots of stories with former Gov. Jim Hunt. While in town, I was able to stop by the studio and see some folks, and it was fun to catch up with David Crabtree, Amanda Lamb, Monica Laliberte and new faces.
NSJ: What are some of the changes you’ve seen in North Carolina since your time at WRAL in the ’90s?
Baier: The state’s more built up, obviously, but it’s still the same great place to raise a family. There is a lot more to it. I’ve been back and through several times since I left. The cities are bigger, and the politics are a bit different.