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From the Road With a CBS Political Junkie

We peppered CBS News National Correspondent Ben Tracy with questions about his time on the trail leading up to Election Day. He’s a big believer in the role of journalism and thinks candidates like Sharron Angle should have been more accessible to the media.

You’re in Vegas the day before Election Day. What is that like? The race between Harry Reid and Sharron Angle is one of the most closely watched and important Senate races in the country so this is a great place to be. I am a political junkie, so to cover a race where the Senate Majority Leader and arguably the most powerful Democrat in Congress could lose to someone even many Republicans have described as “unqualified” for the job, is fascinating.

Are you sleep deprived yet? Not yet, but I will be as of 2 a.m. Tuesday morning when I wake up for my Early Show live shot. I have had many early mornings in the past couple of months. Working in the Pacific Time Zone means you start at an ungodly hour. When we go live at 7 a.m. on the East Coast, it is just 4 a.m. out here so it makes for a long day.

Will you do any gambling there? The only wagers placed will be between my colleagues about who will win this thing. No money will exchange hands…however a beverage may once all is said and done.

More with Tracy after the jump…

What have you learned on the trail? I’ve learned that a lot of people are really angry. Some have specific reasons such as the bailouts, stimulus, and health care. Others are not so sure why they are upset but there is a sense that the government just isn’t working right now. In some sense people want members of Congress to work together and get things done, but in the same breath they will tell you they don’t want their candidates to compromise. Those two forces are a recipe for continued gridlock. It can’t be overstated that this election is about the economy. People are rightly worried and frustrated that things are not turning around more quickly. They have lost homes, jobs, and their sense of security. Many people feel powerless, but they can vote and take out their feelings on the candidates. That’s why it is pretty tough to be an incumbent right now.

What has surprised you? I have been a little surprised, and pleasantly so, by how engaged people are. A wide section of people who don’t normally show up at political rallies or even vote are very active this year. A lot of that can be credited to the Tea Party movement. You may disagree with their politics but they get people out of their houses and into the political debate. In America that is great to see.

What has annoyed you? Candidates running for office who don’t think they need to answer questions from the press about their positions. This election is setting a dangerous precedent that candidates can ignore the media and handpick who they talk to. Here in Nevada, Sharron Angle told a local reporter on Friday that she would “answer all his questions once she is the Senator.” People deserve to know more and not rely on their own campaign commercials and bumper stickers. People may not like the media, but we do play a vital (and constitutional) role and we need to be able to help provide impartial information so voters can make the most informed decision. I know it sounds a bit high and mighty, but I believe if done right, the role journalists play is essential in politics.

Most amusing moment so far: The stuff they sell at Tea Party rallies is really good. I bought a roll of toilet paper that has political leaders (Republicans and Democrats) faces on it. It’s hilarious and will sit on a shelf in my office. They also have great T-shirts and buttons. My favorite is “Keep the tea…dump the politicians.” Clever.

Hotel accommodations (describe): Right now I am at the ARIA resort in Las Vegas at the new City Center development. It is quite nice. On the campaign trail this season I have stayed in everything from Sheratons and Hampton Inns to the Mandarin Oriental. I do like hotels so that is a fun part of the job.

Who is the best, most intriguing person you’ve met on the trail? By the far the most interesting people to me are voters. I met a woman in Reno who was attending a Tea Party rally where Sarah Palin spoke. She told me that she is supporting Sharron Angle because she thinks government is too involved in our lives. She considers herself a Republican because she wants lower taxes and less spending, but she also says she supports gay marriage and, while personally opposed to abortion, she does not believe the government should be able to ban it. She really was ideologically consistent but does not fit into the tidy boxes we like to create for Republicans and Democrats. I find that interesting.

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