Every presidential year since 1975, one political reporter -- just one -- catapults himself to the top of the profession. David Yepsen, 58, spent twenty years as the chief political reporter for the Des Moines Register, 33 years as the host of Iowa's top television chat show, and the past six years as its chief political columnist. For a period of three months -- November, December and January -- Yepsen was the first reporter called by presidential candidates; his interviews were granted immediately; his pronouncements were read as if he were an oracle capable of shapring the future. The era ends. Yepsen is leaving the Register to become the director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University.
Yepsen's influence never really waned. His recapitulation of presidential candidate debates often drove the national coverage. Yepsen had several hobbyhorses. He hated when candidates made empty promises; he wanted candidates to know as much about a particular subject as he did, and did not take lightly to candidates to who tried to bluff their way through interviews. He was a moderate-to-conservative Midwesterner, fiercely protective of the state's seniors and an advocate for economic growth that never seemed to come. As a reporter, he mentored a generation of young scribblers, including the New York Times' Jeff Zeleny. I had the privilege of interviewing Yepsen and stealing from his insights. In his new perch, perhaps he'll find a new way to share his reporting and insights.
Who is Yepsen's heir? My money is on O. Kay Henderson of Iowa Public Radio.