At BGR Event, Woodruff Previews 2024 Presidential Election

NEW ORLEANS — A few days after announcing her decision to leave the PBS NewsHour anchor desk, veteran broadcast journalist Judy Woodruff addressed a crowd of hundreds at the Bureau of Governmental Research annual luncheon at the Hilton New Orleans Riverside.

Woodruff was the featured speaker at the Nov. 18 event celebrating BGR’s 90th anniversary and honoring the private government watchdog group’s past chairs and board of directors.

During her remarks, Woodruff congratulated BGR for its work and highlighted her connections to the city, which include sharing an alma mater (Duke University) with Pelicans star forward Zion Williamson, and being longtime friends with famous residents James Carville and Mary Matalin.

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Known for her even-handed coverage of national politics for decades, Woodruff said she’s looking forward to a new PBS project, titled “America at a Crossroads,” that will take her coast to coast to interview everyday citizens, but for the BGR audience she was happy to share her thoughts on the nation’s political landscape as attention shifts to the 2024 election.

“We just had by any measure an extraordinary election,” she told the crowd. “For only the fourth time in the last century, the party out of power in the president’s first midterm contest did not make substantial gains at his expense. The other times were in 1934 during the Great Depression; in 1962, weeks after the Cuban Missile Crisis; and in 2002 in the aftermath of [the September 11 attacks].”

Woodruff said Democrats deserve credit for running some quality candidates but she said they were “given a great political gift” with the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

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“These all played a role, but maybe even larger was a rejection of a number of Republicans, especially former President Trump and the candidates who embrace his view that the 2020 election was stolen,” she said. “Democrats argued they were a threat to democracy. Voters resoundingly rejected most of the people who are denying the outcome of the election. As for the Democrats, their success, especially in the all-important Senate, came from independent voters, and from what we call soft Republican voters chiefly on the issues of abortion and the threat to democracy.” 

Woodruff said the big Republican winner of the midterms was Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who won a “landslide victory and what not so long ago was considered a swing state.”

Her list of politicians on the rise also includes Georgia’s Republican governor, Brian Kemp, who beat Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams by a healthy margin despite of — or perhaps because of — his refusal to back Trump’s election lies.

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On the Democratic side, Woodruff said that no one had a better midterm boost than Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. 

“She not only decisively won the election; she carried her party with her,” she said. “She swept up all the statewide races, keeping the state Supreme Court, winning control of the Michigan State Legislature for the first time in 40 years and winning a congressional seat in the process. She took on the opposition directly after … extremists even tried to kidnap and kill her. So whether it’s 2024 or 2048, she is someone to take seriously.”

Woodruff said that Biden’s plans for 2024 are unknown, but she said that if he doesn’t run for re-election, there will be other contenders besides Vice President Kamala Harris.

“She’s almost certain to face competition,” she said. “And if that happens, someone you want to keep your eyes on is your own former mayor, Mitch Landrieu.”

Another politician to watch, according to Woodruff, is newly elected Democratic governor of Maryland Wes Moore, who is a Rhodes Scholar, military veteran and successful entrepreneur who ran on an anti-poverty platform.

“Politics in the next few years will be turbulent and unpredictable — and I love covering politics,” said Woodruff. “I’ve covered it for the last 50 years plus, but because of the unprecedented political divide that underlies so much of our politics right now, and because I’ve been doing this for a long time, I have decided to give up the anchor desk to turn to what I know will be an important and, I hope, enlightening adventure. We’re going to be asking about what happened to civility in this country. What happened, and whether it can be restored.”

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