Lifelong political junkie
Iowa Presidential Politics.com
As a sixth-grader in the nation’s capital, David Lightman
sat in his family room watching a television set tuned to the Nixon-Kennedy
debate. Even then, he had an eye on presidential politics, he said.
"Something about that race really captivated not only me, but the
generation,” said Lightman, 53, who is now the Washington
bureau chief of the Hartford Courant,
a 217,518-circulation Connecticut daily. “I just came by
politics because it seemed interesting.”
In his decades on the campaign trail, that interest now has taken
Lightman around the country.
thanks to his reporting career.
"I get to go places I would never visit by myself, and I get to
meet people I'd never meet,” Lightman said from his hotel
room in Phoenix, Ariz., while covering a recent Democratic candidate
The son of a civil service worker, Lightman said politics was
not something talked about at the dinner table when he was a
However, by the time he was in college, Lightman was writing
about the 1968 contest between Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey
the campus paper.
His big professional break came in 1980, when after nine years
covering cops and county and state government for the Baltimore
a junior member of the paper’s political team. During that
campaign, he bounded all over the place, covering candidates
such as Ronald Reagan and Ted Kennedy in the primaries.
“By then I was 31 and had covered Annapolis (the capital of Maryland),
and you think you’re ready for this,” he said. “The
first time I got on the Reagan bus, you are with the reporters
like David Broder who are old enough to be your parents. You
can I compete with these people?’”
Something Lightman said he learned from that experience: Your
energy carries you. He found that out after talking with people
perimeter, instead of just covering stump speech after stump
“David has an eye for the seemingly arcane, leading to stories that
lazier reporters miss,” said Bill Hawkins, a former Baltimore
Sun metro editor. “He's smart, and he has an innate ability
to smell a scam in the making.”
But in 1984 Lightman made a rookie mistake while covering former
Florida governor Reubin Askew’s presidential campaign.
After a 30-minute exclusive interview in Askew’s car, Lightman
got back to the office, only to realize his tape recorder had
not worked. He says he doesn’t count on tape players to
In 1988, while traveling with the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Lightman
became accustomed to visiting three or four black churches each
day. But one night in Queens, NY, Jackson’s caravan got
lost, finally delivering Jackson to his next scheduled stop at
11:30 p.m. on a weekday.
It was dark, rainy and late, but when Lightman walked into the
church, he said people were literally hanging from the rafters
to see Jackson.
“To watch him appeal to these voters who felt they had no power ... you
think, 'My God, this is amazing,' especially
since it’s now 1 a.m. It’s extraordinary the way he touched people,"
Now with home-state senator Joe Lieberman
in the Democratic race, Lightman is still running all over the country, trying
and talking with campaign officials on a daily basis.
“You meet them, you use them for stories, but they don't become your friends,” Lightman
said of his relationship with such officials. “We all know our roles,
but I don't want to play tennis with (Sen.) Chris Dodd or invite his press
over for dinner. I'm in their world, but I'm not part of it.”
Lightman’s name often appears on ABC’s “The
Web link for political junkies with up-to-the-minute campaign information.
Last summer, when he was in Iowa for early caucus coverage, the site quoted
“Lieberman is still a blur of sorts in Iowa, someone whom people just can't
put into focus,” Lightman writes. "He's a friendly, decent man who
promotes himself as a centrist in a state where Democrats are generally liberals,
his voting record leans left on most key issues."
“I get to be an eyewitness to history and get to know the top policymakers,” said
Lightman. “I like being right on top of what's going on. If Bush talks
to Congress about Iraq, for instance, bam, I'm there.”
Although he thrives on the glamour and spontaneity of his job, however, Lightman
says he would
much rather be at home on the couch, watching college football with his two
sons, on any given fall weekend.
"Being there” often means being away from his wife and family.
Lightman admits he’s lucky to have a wife who “puts up with this
stuff.” He declined to have his wife interviewed about his political
reporting career. Maybe that has something to do with Lightman's strong
belief in dating or marrying someone who has nothing to do with the business
who perhaps “worries about traffic and taxes and normal stuff,” he
Sara Faiwell at [email protected]