Election Night 2020: “Expect the Unexpected”

by Amanda Fung

Alba covering the RNC in Charlotte, NC in August. (Photo courtesy of Monica Alba)

Covering President Trump and the happenings of the 2020 U.S. election cycle is no easy task.  As a political reporter for NBC, Monica Alba is no stranger to red-eye flights, trailing the President’s footsteps, monitoring the Twitter thread, and getting neck-deep in political analysis and investigative reports, as she continues to give her audience the lowdown on President Trump’s every move during his campaigns. As political reporting goes, this is the “dream” job she says.  Alba will be a part of NBC News’ election night coverage beginning at 7 p.m. ET tomorrow and MSNBC’s beginning at 4 p.m. ET.  We spoke to her about the race for president as it heads into its finale, her nightly dinner conversations with her husband, CNN political reporter Dan Merica, and how she makes on-camera reporting amid all the campaign hopscotching look seemingly effortless.

WL: What’s the unexpected part about covering the election?
There are many more moments of “how is this my job?” than not. Pandemic aside, traveling the country to try and better understand how the electorate is shifting each cycle is a dream assignment. I’m a sports fanatic and it’s just like the Olympics for me: something incredibly special every four years. Also, weird affinities for certain airport features across the country (like the Westin inside the terminal of the Detroit Airport). 

WL: How specifically are you preparing yourself for Nov. 3 coverage and the immediate aftermath?
Preparing the only way I know how in 2020: expect the unexpected. No one knows exactly what is going to happen and that’s the only thing I’m confident of at this point. 

WL: What is your favorite part about covering the election? Most challenging part?
Seeing parts of the U.S. and meeting voters I maybe would have otherwise not had the opportunity to in another kind of job. The coronavirus pandemic has made this aspect more challenging this year since our travel footprint has been lighter and we haven’t had the opportunity to interact with as many people as we normally would.

WL: What do you and your husband (CNN political reporter Dan Merica) talk about at the dinner table?
Honestly, a lot of politics. It’s hard not to during an election cycle like this. Dan covers Democrats and I cover Republicans so it’s actually really useful to compare notes that inform our own experiences on the trail. We spend a lot of time discussing our current wanderlust and future trips we want to take. It’s so important to tune our brains to other channels when we get downtime. There are many adventures to come. 

WL: What is your favorite way to stay sane while covering something as hectic as the election?
Podcasts about things other than news that provide a joyful escape, such as “The Rewatchables,” which is a great one for movie addicts like myself. My husband and I are big outdoorsy types and love to hike but, let’s be real, we also love to binge TV. Our favorites from the quarantine era are Dark, Alone and Money Heist. 

WL: What are the three things you always have in your bag when you travel to cover the election?
Three things I always have in my bag these days: chargers, snacks and masks galore.

Alba on MSNBC Live with Katy Tur. / Photo courtesy of NBC Universal

WL: Why did you choose to pursue journalism? And specifically politics? Any inspiration at an early age?
I love storytelling and I love people. I started out thinking I wanted to be a sports reporter and, in many ways, covering politics isn’t too crazy different from covering competitive, high-stakes contests. Covering presidential campaigns and the White House nonstop for the last five years certainly has its parallels. 

WL: Any advice for young journalists who aspire to be political reporters?
Possess a curiosity. If you’ve got that, you’re golden. Find a mentor who knows the value of that kind of relationship early on because odds are they were in your shoes once and should have great advice. Don’t worry about your first job not fitting the exact description or path you had envisioned. The most important thing is getting your foot in the door to get the experience that will help you determine where to zig once you zag. 

Watch Alba during NBC News’ election night coverage beginning at 7 p.m. ET tomorrow and MSNBC’s beginning at 4 p.m. ET.

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