During a couple of former Gov. Jon Huntsman's recent presidential campaign stops, there has come what might be called the Tommy Burr moment.
Huntsman will be selling his red-state cred by touting his successes in conservative Utah, and he'll gesture to Salt Lake Tribune reporter Tommy Burr and say Burr can confirm what he's saying.
Some fellow reporters may even bite and seek out Burr, who has his own stock answers: Yes, Huntsman was elected with 78 percent of the vote. No, he didn't exactly push a "flat" tax. It's a single-rate tax, but it still preserved itemized deductions on mortgages and charitable donations.
Burr knows his editors didn't send him out there to enlighten other reporters, but the story is still testament to his real value to Tribune readers: In the curious case that has found Utah connected to not one but two presidential candidates, Burr is unique among campaign reporters in that he has covered both men for years.
Thomas Burr grew up in the Sevier County town of Salina, and he graduated from Southern Utah University in Cedar City. He joined the The Tribune staff shortly after working as a freelancer during the 2002 Olympics and he was covering state government when Huntsman was sworn in as governor in 2005.
Later that year Burr became a Washington correspondent for The Tribune, and from that perspective he watched as both Romney and Huntsman nurtured their presidential aspirations. He interviewed Romney in New Hampshire in 2007, and he covered the 2008 primary when he lost to eventual nominee John McCain. And he followed Huntsman through the process of becoming ambassador to China, and he covered his preparations for the presidential run.
Burr can recall how Romney the underdog was very accessible to the press four years ago. "Now, it's almost impossible to get a question posed to him, and there's a serious wall between the candidate and the press."
Huntsman, on the other hand, offers all the press access of a candidate who is deep in the pack. "He has been friendly to the press and takes questions daily."
Burr put 1,400 miles on his rental car while covering the New Hampshire race this year, an incredible figure when you consider the state is only about 50 miles wide. Along the way, he's found a few truths for political reporters: "Naps are OK, and laptops double as pillows. Coffee is a food group. Electricity and battery life are key components of journalism."
Burr's editor, Dan Harrie, points out that Burr recognized early that Huntsman's all-New Hampshire strategy was paying dividends because Burr was there, as opposed to the aggregators who sift other people's news for nuance.
"In the end, there still is nothing that compares to being at ground zero to be the eyes, ears and sometimes nose for our readers," says Harrie.
So now the show moves to South Carolina as Romney tries to clinch and Huntsman tries to do, well, anything. And Burr will be there, too, keeping his Utah readers connected, and living the campaign journalist's split life of glamour and grunt work. "There's a serious adrenaline rush in following presidential candidates but it's not as glorious as movies make it out to be."
Tim Fitzpatrick is deputy editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org