Summer of Service: Political handicapping and investigative journalism at the Cook Report

Summer of Service: During the summer of 2013 the IOP is proud to sponsor and work with over 250 students who are spending their summers in politics and public service around the world. Learn more about this program.

Angie Berkowitz '15 is a summer 2013 Director's Intern at the Cook Political Report.

This summer I have the pleasure of working at the Cook Political Report, the offices of which are located in the Watergate Complex on the western side of Washington, D.C. Several months ago, Charlie Cook, founder of the Cook Political Report was a fellow at the IOP. In a twist of fate, I became the producer of his study group and it wasn’t long before he became my mentor. 

When he offered me a position working at the Cook Report this summer, I quickly accepted. While he is far too modest to tell you himself, Charlie (and by association the Cook Report itself) is a highly trusted source of political forecasting. The Cook PVI (partisan voter index) is a veritable holy grail for political insiders in determining the political leanings of a district or county. 

I’d always been interested in political handicapping as a concept, and more peripherally, the way in which publications like the Cook report or the Rothenberg report meld statistical data with old-fashioned human intuition to size up candidates and races, and my work here has only encouraged that curiosity as I’m getting to see more of what goes into baseline race analyses. 

On a normal day at the office, if I’m not traveling around D.C accompanying Charlie or David Wasserman (House Editor of the Cook Report) to speaking engagements running the gamut from trade associations to defense contractors — I am in the office working on candidate research on gubernatorial or senate races. Two events so far have stood out as the most exciting to me: the first was the publication of my first official collaboration with the Report; the second was a candidate meeting, in which I got to see how the Cook Report interviews and assesses candidates, and even more interesting, how candidates try to sell themselves to the Report. My work experience has been so pleasant, educational, and full of hands-on experience that it’s difficult to single out one member of the Cook Report team as the most inspiring.  Charlie, of course, is a mentor in my life (as well as a surrogate parent this summer) so I owe him tremendously for this opportunity.

If anything this summer has made it clear how each race the Report covers, no matter how seemingly insignificant from an outside perspective, is crucial in assessing the larger domestic political climate. Furthermore, the Cook Report by virtue of the amount of information it condenses and synthesizes has described fascinating trends in terms of the involvement of youth and minority voters and the changing demographics of the nation; both of these factors play a key role in determining how much control each party exerts at the House, Senate and state levels.  Having worked at the Cook Report, I’m keenly aware of how voting trends are changing and furthermore, how broad, party-wide political platforms and targeted advertising would have to change to keep apace.

What the Cook Report does so well is to provide streamlined, easily-understood information useful to both voters and potential or established politicians--publications like the Cook Report are the “Weather Channel” of today’s political climate, providing crucial information and educating both voters and future politicians.

Until this summer, I hadn’t considered political handicapping as a potential career — it certainly is now. Either way, my summer of service has encouraged me to continue working in politics and to inspire others, like Charlie has with me, with my example.