What I learned from Campaign 2008 still applies today

In 2008, I interviewed more than 90 percent of both Republican and Democrat presidential candidates. Some of them I interviewed more than once.

Nevada was a battleground state that open election year and they all made appearances in the Silver State. My work began in April when Sen. John McCain stood on the steps of the 100-year-old Elko County Courthouse in the remote northeastern corner of the state on a cold, blustery day and ended seven months later on the eve of Election Day when Sarah Palin, McCain's running mate, rallied the troops on a cold, blustery day in early November.

In between, I interviewed Democrat Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney, twice. I interviewed Republican-Libertarian Ron Paul and Democrat Joe Biden. I interviewed Republican Duncan Hunter and Democrat John Edwards. I interviewed surrogates for Republican Alan Keyes and Democrat Christopher Dodd, Republican Rudy Giuliani and Democrat Mike Gravel.

Hillary Clinton came to town and I assigned reporter Ali Helgoth to do the interview because she came on the same day as Obama, who was inexplicably a much bigger draw in highly conservative Elko County.

There was a fundraising dinner for the tiny but effective Elko County Democratic Party that several of the national party's elite attended. I don't remember any of the speeches, but I remember the folks who were there for Hillary walked out on their bill. That was a fun story to write.

I remember Mitt Romney made a huge gaffe when I asked him where he stood on mining reform, which was a serious issue in Nevada's gold country at the time.

"We need coal," he said.

"Okay, but we mine gold here," I said.

"Are you sure?" he replied.

That was another fun story to write.

My favorite interview was with Democrat contender Dennis Kucinich's wife, Elizabeth, who left me spellbound with her ethereal beauty and hypnotic British accent. She stood about half a foot taller than me at 6 feet, and her bodyguard was an even 7 feet tall. The wife of the former Cleveland mayor supported socialist causes that would make Bernie Sanders look like Ayn Rand, but I didn't care.

One of the big events was the visit of George W. Bush, who arrived at the Elko County Airport on Air Force One to lobby for Nevada Republicans John Ensign and Dean Heller. Heller is now a Nevada senator and Ensign was chased out of Washington, D.C., in shame after his sordid extramarital affair was exposed.

Here is what I remember the most about the 2008 election. Presidential candidates are not free to answer questions. They have handlers who stand close to their sides, ready to cut an interview short the second an uncomfortable question is asked. They have talking points they stick to like Superglue, and only those talking points are allowed. Illegal immigration, health care, the war in Iraq, national security and, as always, the economy.

I imagine those handlers have nervous breakdowns during debates.

They all spoke in broad terms but specifics were as hard to find as Waldo. I can't tell you how many of those "We can give you 15 minutes of our time" interviews were cut short. As soon as I asked a question that demanded the candidate think on his or her feet, some handler in a rumpled suit would look at his watch and suddenly remember they had a very important appointment somewhere far, far away.

The Republicans all sounded like the same broken record. We need to build a border fence. We need to let the free market get us out of the Great Recession. We have to keep troops on the ground.

The Democrats were the flip-side of that broken record. We need to remember we're a nation that was built on the backs of immigrants. The health care system is broken. Wall Street needs to be reined in.

After a while, I realized I was writing the same two stories over and over. All I had to do, if I so desired, was change the names and dates and locations. The quotes were literally identical.

I came to the crushing realization that it isn't the candidates running the campaign. It's their handlers.

And their handlers are dishonest creeps.

Nothing has changed in 2016. Nothing.