Interview with Rich Cohen, Chief Author of the Almanac of American Politics

The Almanac of American Politics is the unparalleled reference for the people, places, and perceptions that are reshaping American Politics. The 2018 Almanac remains the gold standard for accurate, accessible, usable political information, relied on by everyone involved, invested, or interested in American politics.

What was your role in the writing of the Almanac?

I was chiefly responsible for writing profiles of the 435 House Members and their districts. I enjoy staying current on the election campaigns for each of those members, plus their work in Washington. I also seek to depict notable recent activities, plus social and economic changes in their constituencies. I began as Almanac co-author in 2001 and became chief author with the 2016 Almanac.

What were some important additions to the 2018 edition of the Almanac?

For the first time, the Almanac includes profiles of President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence written by Michael Barone, founding author of the Almanac. We also have included data tables from the Brookings Institute’s Vital Statistics on Congress.

What is your favorite part about being on the Almanac team?

Writing the Almanac is certainly a team effort. One of my favorite parts of working on the Almanac is being exposed to extraordinary research. The 2018 Almanac features excellent research by our team at Ballotpedia. During a three-month period, they produced a research file on recent activities for each of the 435 House Members and their districts, 100 Senators, 50 governors and their states. Clark Benson of Polidata prepared maps for the 50 states, including three states that redrew their congressional district lines since the publication of the 2016 Almanac.

Besides being the Chief Author of the Almanac, what else do you do?

Currently, I am an Adjunct Professor in the Government Department at George Mason University. I also recently worked on Partisan Divide with Former Reps. Tom Davis and Martin Frost. Previously, I was a Congressional Reporter for the National Journal for 37 years.

Given the current political climate, what challenges did you face when writing the new edition of the Almanac?

The growing polarization in American politics increases the challenge of writing for an audience of readers who are active partisans of all ideologies. Some readers, of course, are not members of either party. We view it as essential that all readers view the Almanac as fair, thorough and accurate.

How was working on the 2018 edition different than previous editions of the Almanac?

The unusual dynamics of the 2016 presidential campaign formed a vital back-drop to our research and writing. Much more than in the past, the 2018 Almanac describes how Members of Congress and governors in both parties inter-acted with and responded to the presidential candidates, especially Donald Trump. We decided to include those features as an important part of our coverage, as we began our research and writing following the election.

What was the most interesting fact you learned about a Member of Congress or Governor when writing the member profiles?

Broadly speaking, all of the people whom we profile have won elections. As writers and editors, we keep in mind the significance of the political context. In that context, the very close victory of Democrat Maggie Hassan in the Senate contest in New Hampshire—a state where all four members of Congress are Democrats, but Republican Chris Sununu was elected governor in 2016—was a reminder of the hard-fought campaigns in that state. Plus, Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump in New Hampshire by less than one-half of one percent of the total vote, as we detail in our profile of that state.

Which freshman Member of Congress or Governor gave you the most trouble in creating their profile and why?

Freshman Rep. Clay Higgins of Louisiana offered some challenges. He had been a sheriff in the Bayous and was relatively unknown politically. His victory was a surprise to those who had been following that election, and we found relatively little news-media coverage of his campaign. Note, also, that the Almanac photograph of Higgins features him with a hat and open-collar shirt, rather than the customary coat and tie for men.

Having participated in multiple editions of the Almanac, have you found a Member you particularly enjoy writing about?

Of course, each Member of Congress is a vital part of the Almanac. And we make every effort to assure that each profile is informative and current. Typically, the longest—and probably the most widely read—are the profiles of the party leaders in both the House and Senate. The evolution of the careers of Reps. Paul Ryan and Nancy Pelosi, like those of Sens. Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell, offers valuable insight to Almanac readers.

Who was your favorite Governor to write about?

Gov. John Kasich of Ohio presented some challenges because of his Republican presidential candidacy, which ended with his decision not to endorse Donald Trump. Kasich also has been an active governor in his home state. We hope that all readers will find his profile worth reading.


Pre-order your copy of the 2018 Edition of the Almanac of American Politics HERE.

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