The Fox News White House correspondent was heading out from Denver on Thursday following Wednesday's presidential debate. Henry came to Fox last year after covering the White House for CNN since 2006 during the George W. Bush administration. Prior to that he was CNN's congressional correspondent and worked as a print journalist for Roll Call magazine for eight years.
During roughly two decades covering politics, Henry has seen presidential races up close from the standpoint of both the challenger — he covered U.S. Sen. John Kerry's run in 2004 — and now the incumbent.
The typical grind of covering the White House has been compounded by the President's busy campaign travel schedule.
Henry was stealing a couple days with his wife and attending a wedding after the Denver debate, but planned to join back up with the Obama campaign in Los Angeles over the weekend.
It can become a slog, but Henry said there are advantages to covering an incumbent. Whereas the challenger is constantly on the road or, Obama does circle back to Washington, D.C., allowing Henry to go home, if briefly.
Adding the campaign to regular executive branch happenings does make it difficult to differentiate between policy and politics.
“It's hard to separate the two sometimes,” Henry said. “The President may be on the campaign trail and have to take a phone call about Libya. That's the nature of the job as the President. The job follows you everywhere.”
Although the violence and bloodshed in Syria and escalating tensions with Iran have competed for headlines with the campaign, some things that normally would get more play in a news cycle can fall to the wayside. Henry, though, believes the recent assassination of J. Christopher Stephens, the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, refocused the dialog on some of the more pressing national security matters.
It can be even more difficult trying to stay focussed on the weightier issues when the country’s attention span is reduced to the time it takes to watch a YouTube video. Henry said the explosion of social media has drastically altered the way campaigns are covered and gave the video of Romney telling party donors that 47 percent of the American people wouldn't vote for him because they were dependent on government as an example.
“Because of the rapidity, the sheer speed with which a clip reaches an audience it can distort the race,” Henry said. “Those things definitely become magnified and supersede the debate over things like Medicare.”
Without hesitation, Henry said bigger changes in the way campaigns unfold and how they are covered took place between 2008 and 2010 than in several previous elections cycles combined. He pointed to the way the Internet has continued to revolutionize how campaigns reach out to voters and rally their most ardent supporters to action.
“Even Republicans would admit that Obama was able to effectively use the Internet in 2008, but they were really just scratching the surface,” Henry said of the Obama campaign's vaunted online effort to raise funds and conscript and deploy a massive number of volunteers. “In 2008 they were able to target a county, whereas this time you can micro-target a neighborhood or a street.”
Live debates, however, are something that even the most tech savvy politician can't control. Henry said the perception among some people that the Obama was rusty at articulating and defending his positions shows he and his colleagues still have their work cut out for them.
“You better ask tough questions whether it's a Democrat or Republican President,” Henry said. “That's what our job is, to make sure whoever is in power gets asked the tough questions day in and day out.”
Now attention shifts to the how Biden and Ryan will respond to the spotlight in Danville, where Henry will be sometime next week. Although he has traveled to countries all over the world, Henry said he is eager for a visit to one of the few states he has never been to for what is expected to be a high-energy showdown between Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan.
Kentucky has largely been left out of the presidential race to this point because the state is expected to vote solidly for Romney. It’s a status Henry said has its pros and cons.
On the one hand, he said Kentucky residents have been spared the glut of toxic political advertisements. The state is also part of fly-over country for campaigns honing in on an ever-shrinking map of states still up for grabs.
Henry said the debate adds some excitement and a chance to be at the center of the political universe.
“I’m definitely looking forward to this debate."