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Presidential, local election coverage a balancing act

How historic, and how forgotten, was the night.

America elected its first black president. Everything else was static.

Local TV coverage of statewide races on E-Day amounted to stray shards of Barack Obama’s shattering of political tradition. Porter-Titus, Sisolak-Scroggins, Heck-Breeden, it all felt tiny and trivial, just a bag of etcetera. Of course it wasn’t. But it couldn’t have felt otherwise, juxtaposed against a historical juggernaut and heightened by rhapsodic network commentary.

That said, local coverage reminded us of the value of Las Vegas One lifting off from the sturdy launch pad of KLAS-TV, Channel 8, while KVBC-TV, Channel 3 maximized the precious few minutes per hour NBC allotted its affiliates.

The ABC/KTNV-TV, Channel 13 trade-off tilted more toward the network, and KVVU-TV, Channel 5 pitched in stories in and around their regular newscasts and Fox’s limited coverage of returns.

Once polls closed at 7 p.m., Channel 8’s reliably strong reporting went cable whenever Katie Couric returned, turning Las Vegas One into a local-coverage lifeline to a degree it never has been before (at least to cable subscribers).

While affiliates were reduced to gasps of airtime between network stretches, Las Vegas One breathed local coverage with anchors Gary Waddell, Paula Francis, Dave Courvoisier and field correspondents, enlivened by the analysis triumvirate of Jon Ralston, George Knapp and Jeff Gillan, plus political consultants Dan Hart and Steve Wark. Beyond the assured reporting, their mere presence matters, running parallel to the presidential coverage, rather than as punctuation in the few moments doled out to the affiliates. It lent Nevada contests the dignity and sense of importance they deserved.

Under less exciting circumstances, such as the primaries, their ongoing coverage while everyone else cuts to prime-time entertainment — though admirable for fulfilling TV’s civic responsibility, as cited previously in this column — can seem wonkish, droning, even self-important. A local all-news channel, short of the cache of a CNN, can — and sometimes has — come off as if it thinks it’s a whale when it’s really a blowfish.

On Tuesday, while Obama was a whale of a story, they reminded us that we had a few fish in our own political sea.

At Channel 3, enthusiasm for local races was palpable, coverage crisply anchored by Sophia Choi, Kendall Tenney, Jim Snyder and Sue Manteris, and distinguished by reporters led by the competent, refreshingly low-key Gerard Ramalho. They even hit a tone of relaxation during in-studio chats, such as Tenney interviewing poli-sci professor Ken Fernandez in easy chairs.

They also delivered one of the best throwaway lines of the night from the R-J’s own John L. Smith, who, when asked about national candidates and their surrogates frequently stumping in Henderson, thrust tongue in cheek and quipped: "Did they have a favorite Denny’s there?"

Give that man a cheese omelet.

Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at sbornfeld@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0256.

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