Never in his wildest dreams did political pundit Charles Cook imagine he would one day attend private meetings with the Vice President or be accosted in airports by Congressmen eager to lobby him.
Beaming, Cook, the editor of The Cook Political Report and author of a twice-weekly column for the political newspaper Roll Call, exclaimed, "It's neat to be known as an expert."
Cook also appears weekly on the Cable News Network and is a veteran of "Meet the Press" and "The David Brinkley Show," which he called "the granddaddy of shows."
"The TV stuff is fun," he said. "I frequently ask myself, gosh is this really happening?"
Empty soda cans and plates from a student luncheon he had just completed littered the conference table in Morrison Commons, where he sat down to ponder the source of his interest in politics.
"I don't know," he said. "No one in my family is involved in politics."
Cook said he harbored an avid interest in current events from an early age and cultivated it while debating in high school.
During his college years Cook moved from Shreveport, La., to Washington, D.C. to attend Georgetown University in 1972, and never left the area.
Cook worked for Senator Bennett Johnson, a Louisiana Democrat. He also worked on the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee; the Democratic Policy Committee; as a consultant and pollster for Congressional, senatorial and presidential campaigns, and served on the staff of a political action committee of the National Association of Home Builders.
Sinking back in his gray swivel chair, Cook said he became determined to maintain an objective involvement in politics. He found himself frequently voting Republican while working almost exclusively for Democrats.
"I worked in Democratic party politics except for one stint," he said, "But I found myself voting for Republicans 35 to 40 percent of the time."
Cook said his decision to stay involved in politics without leaning to one side motivated him to borrow money and start a political newsletter in 1984.
Today the newsletter, The Cook Political Report, has 700 subscribers, including the Clinton White House, corporations, trade associations, labor unions, government agencies and foreign governments.
Cook called the political report "pretty much of a success" claiming that he continuously strives "to steer down the middle."
"I know I've screwed up" when either the Republicans or Democrats are extremely happy with the coverage they received in the Cook Political Report, he said.
"It is a peculiar form of journalism," Cook said, describing the coupling of politics and analysis which characterize the articles in the Cook Political Report.
"It is a hybrid cross between political journalism and a person who would be a hotel and beverage analyst for Merill Lynch," he said.
Pausing to gather his thoughts, Cook contemplated the lessons he has gleaned from politicians.
"I try not to like them or dislike them," Cook said. "I used to have lunch with them, but now I don't want to bond with them."
Cook described all politicians as interesting people, citing his surprise at discovering that California Representative and former Republican presidential candidate Bob Dornan was an animal rights activist.
"There are very few boring people in politics," he exclaimed.
Cook said what he likes both least and most about his job is traveling around the country.
"I least like being gone so much from my family, but I like best getting to see the country," he said.
Cook said this year he spent 125 days on the road and visited about 35 states.
He said by combining work with pleasure, he can bring his wife and three children along on his political travels.
Cook joked that his 10-year-old daughter, Becky, who accompanied him to the Chicago Democratic Convention, was the youngest delegate in the history of the Democratic Convention.
Cook said this year he started a family tradition of visiting New England the August before an election year.
He said he frequently brings his children to television studios when he tapes television shows.