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Alan Pergament: WGRZ-TV was the station to watch on election night for multiple reasons

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Election 2022 New York Governor

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul stands with Lt. Gov. Antonio Delgado during their election night party in New York.

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It wasn’t too close to call Tuesday night for Western New Yorkers on which broadcast network affiliate to watch on election night.

There was no denying that WGRZ-TV (Channel 2), the local NBC affiliate, won hands down covering the race won by Democrat Gov. Kathy Hochul and Republican challenger Lee Zeldin.

Let me count the ways that Channel 2 led the coverage on a night that a Western New York native became the first woman elected as the state’s governor. That alone made going all out in covering the race worthwhile.

Channel 2 smartly used the digital channel that normally covers Antenna TV programs to carry a two-hour program after the polls closed. It was anchored by Dave McKinley and featured reporter Michael Wooten explaining the returns while NBC was covering the national races in prime time.

It was the only station to send local reporters – Claudine Ewing and Rob Hackford – to New York City where both candidates were late Tuesday night as the results came in.

And it was helped by the fact that its network, NBC, projected Hochul the winner first about 11:10 p.m. while rival stations WIVB-TV (Channel 4) and WKBW-TV (Channel 7) were still acting as if the race wasn’t over.

Amusingly, Channel 7 co-anchor Hannah Buehler was interviewing University at Buffalo professor Jacob Neiheisel about the race after Channel 2’s declaration. He was saying there were “a lot of unknowns” and he was “reluctant to say a lot” while Channel 2 viewers already knew who won.

A few minutes later, Channel 7 co-anchor Jeff Russo noted that Hochul had sent out a tweet claiming victory and added, “as far as we know it hasn’t been declared anywhere else.”

Actually, it had been declared by NBC. Hochul’s tweet undoubtedly was based on that call.

In fairness, it wasn't Buehler or Russo's fault for being unaware as they were a little busy to be monitoring election calls. 

Channel 4 anchor Jacquie Walker also noted Hochul’s tweet several minutes after NBC’s call. At least Walker added “we do understand one of the networks has projected her the winner.” She didn’t name NBC.

If there was a runner-up in election coverage and you are a cable subscriber, it was the statewide Spectrum News. It closely followed the governor’s race and other key ones in the state. It noted Hochul had been declared the winner about the same time as Channel 2, though it took the conservative approach and played it safe and didn’t call the race to “make sure we got it right.”

Nationally, the results appeared to be as big a surprise as the New York Jets upset of the Buffalo Bills. It became clear relatively early that the so-called Republican red wave that pollsters expected wasn’t going to happen.

“This sort of defies history if this keeps going in this direction,” said Democratic analyst David Axelrod on CNN late in the evening. “This is not like a normal midterm election.”

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It was a tough night for pollsters in multiple ways, including their pre-election claim that abortion wasn’t going to be as big an issue as Democrats needed.

The exit polls placed it as the No. 2 issue at 27%, behind only inflation at 32%.

One of the clear indicators on whether a red wave would be coming was agreed upon by MSNBC election race expert Steve Kornacki and CNN election race expert John King. It was a House race in Virginia won by Democratic incumbent Abigail Spanberger.

She was behind early. Kornacki did a better job explaining she had a path to victory because, unlike the way it is done in other states, Election Day voting in Virginia that favored her Republican opponent, Yesli Vega, was counted before early voting.

While I admire both Kornacki and King, after that Kornacki became my go-to guy in explaining where the votes came from in key races.

However, the repartee between King and anchor Jake Tapper was most enjoyable and had me switching back and forth.

Who didn’t laugh when Tapper, a Pennsylvania native, discussed the Senate race between eventual Democrat winner John Fetterman and Republican Dr. Mehmet Oz?

Noting that Dr. Oz didn’t live in Pennsylvania until recently, Tapper cracked: “It wasn’t just that he was a new (resident), it was he was from Jersey.”

As if there is no bigger sin.

Now on to more highs and lows of the coverage:

New York, New York: Kornacki noted Wednesday morning that while control of the House surprisingly hasn’t been decided, it could come down to five key races in New York of all places. That could have been the result of Hochul having no coattails since she won by a smaller margin than Democrats normally receive in the governor's race.

Tapper’s Democratic Consultant: Tapper noted he was told by the consultant he respects to watch three things early to see how vulnerable Democrats would be: the Hochul-Zeldin race; the New Hampshire Senate race between Democrat incumbent Maggie Hassan and Republican challenger Don Bolduc; and Spanberger’s race. The Democrats won all three, which was a good sign for the party.

Cost Savings?: Channel 4’s coverage from New York City was from reporters Jamie DeLine and Amal Tlaige. Local viewers may have been asking: Who are they? They work for the station in Albany owned by Channel 4’s owner Nexstar.

Bruising Analysis: After Hochul was declared the winner, Channel 4 interviewed Republican analyst Andrea Bozek and Democratic analyst Jack O’Donnell. Bozek wasn’t taking the high road. She claimed Hochul came out of the election “severely bruised.” O’Donnell wasn’t having any of it when asked the impact on Hochul. “The impact on Kathy Hochul is she is going to be governor for four years,” he said. He added she will have majorities in the State Assembly and State Senate.

Job Application: CNN analyst Scott Jennings, a Republican, noted the huge re-election victory by Florida Gov, Ron DeSantis that is bound to propel him to a presidential run against Donald Trump, whose endorsements didn't help many candidates. Jennings offered DeSantis a campaign line. “My way is to a national majority. His way is to a national minority.”

Good News: Van Jones, a liberal, and Republican David Urban had a cordial discussion on CNN about how people voted on the quality of candidates and that often meant splitting their ballots. “Democracy was on the ballot,” said Urban. “Democracy won tonight and that’s good news for America.” That’s quite a statement when you consider Urban is a former campaign adviser to President Trump.

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TV Critic

Alan Pergament has had a variety of roles at The News since 1970, including as a news and sports reporter. He has been the TV columnist since 1982, with more than year off for good behavior. He is a member of the national Television Critics Association.

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