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TV anchors make the call at same time

Gold is a Times staff writer.

The verdict from the television networks came down at precisely 8 p.m. on Tuesday, just as the polls closed in California: Barack Obama had won the 2008 presidential contest.

“An African American has broken the barrier as old as the republic,” NBC News anchor Brian Williams said. “An astonishing candidate, an astonishing campaign, a seismic shift in American politics.”

With plenty of time to prepare, all the networks made the call simultaneously, pronouncing with certainty what they had prognosticated all night.

“Barack Obama will be the 44th president of the United States,” ABC News anchor Charles Gibson said.

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At CBS News, anchor Katie Couric characterized the network’s announcement as “momentous news.”

The network projections came remarkably early compared with 2004, when the close count in Ohio left the outcome unclear late into the night.

On Tuesday, the picture was clearer, and the television anchors spent much of the night trying -- sometimes in vain -- to keep from calling the race until it was official.

“Barack Obama is going to be the next president of the United States,” Bob Schieffer said on CBS shortly after 7 p.m., when the network projected that the Democrat had 206 electoral votes.

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Others were a bit more reserved.

“It’s getting very, very close for Sen. Obama,” CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer said about the same time. “And the climb for Sen. [John] McCain -- you know, it’s hard to see how he gets to the 270.”

The relative discipline shown by the networks came about because of the public drubbing they received in 2000 after premature calls about who won Florida. The result was massive confusion about the race’s outcome.

This year, the broadcast and cable networks promised not to project a president-elect before a candidate officially had 270 electoral votes. But that didn’t stop anchors and analysts from offering early hints about which way the race was going.

The first clues came about 5 p.m., when the networks began proclaiming Obama the winner in Pennsylvania, a state McCain had hoped to win. At 6:18 p.m., Fox News was the first network to give Obama the key prize of Ohio.

“Unless something miraculous happens in one of these non-battleground states, McCain’s situation is looking pretty dire,” Fox News anchor Brit Hume said.

“The fat lady isn’t singing yet,” Couric said at 7:30 p.m., “but we can hear her clearing her throat.”

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matea.gold@latimes.com

Times staff writers Scott Collins, Maria Elena Fernandez and Martin Miller contributed to this report.


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