There is nothing quite like election night for a news photographer. They’re busy and most of the time, they’re a lot of fun. On a routine election night, we would work three photographers. Each of us would usually have at least two, and sometimes as many as four candidates to photograph. This could mean shuttling between two locations, or as many as four, always under intense deadlines. And then there is how you shoot your photos. The news value of the race, the time the candidates would be available and the various page deadlines would dictate how much time you could spend with each candidate. So there is sort of a formula, what we call the “happy photo and the sad photo.” If you didn’t have much time, you’d bring back an upbeat photo of the candidate smiling and a more somber or neutral photo of the candidate. Then, depending on a win or a loss, the editors would choose the proper photo.
On election night 2006, the 22nd Congressional seat was not in question. Kevin McCarthy, a rapidly rising political star in the Republican Party, was running unopposed for Bill Thomas’ seat. There was no victory celebration scheduled, and the other, contested races were understandably occupying most of the newsroom’s attention and resources. My editor handed me a piece of paper with McCarthy’s phone number. If I had some free time, see if I could find McCarthy and get a quick photo. It wasn’t a priority, we already had plenty of photos on file, but if we could get something, that would be fine, too. It was completely up to me. I’ve know McCarthy for a long time, since long before his political career took off. He was always a friendly and accessible guy. Yeah, I could work in a shot. So I called him. “I’m at the In-N-Out having dinner with my kids,” he said. “Come on over.” Photos that are different from what the public expects to see are the holy grail of news photography. It’s what we strive for on virtually every shoot. I though this could be a good picture. It was. I arrived to find the new congressman waiting for his food order with his wife, Judy, son, Connor, daughter, Meghan, nephew, Zach and his friend, Roy Sekine. (Judy, Zach and Connor (right) are pictured here.) I had to get back to the other races, and probably spent five, maybe ten minutes at the restaurant. The photo would run on an inside page in The Bakersfield Californian, likely receiving little attention, as the other races took center stage. Now, of course, eight years later, Kevin McCarthy sits at the pinnacle of political power, House Majority Leader of the United States Congress. That’s sort of a big deal. But on this night in November, 2006, the night he was elected to Congress, he “celebrated” with his family and a friend, at an In-N-Out on Stockdale Highway.