Meet Clay Masters, MPR News senior politics reporter

A man wearing a suit coat poses for a photo
MPR News politics reporter Clay Masters poses for a photo at the Kling Public Media Center in St. Paul on Dec. 29, 2023.
Ben Hovland | MPR News 2023

We have a new face on the MPR News politics team. The talented Clay Masters is joining as a senior politics reporter. Clay was previously at Iowa Public Radio as the host of Morning Edition. And this week is his first week with Minnesota Public Radio. And he’s hitting the ground running with covering the Iowa Caucuses.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

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Audio transcript

CATHY WURZER: Hey, we have a new face on MPR's politics team. Clay Masters, a name you've heard from time to time on National Public Radio, is joining MPR News as a senior political reporter. Clay was previously at Iowa Public Radio as the host of Morning Edition and as a reporter at the Iowa State Capitol. This is his first week with Minnesota Public Radio, and he's hitting the ground running.

Welcome, Clay. Nice to have you here.

CLAY MASTERS: Hey, it's nice to be here.

CATHY WURZER: Tell us about your time in Iowa. You were there for what, 10 years?

CLAY MASTERS: Yeah almost 12. I started in 2012. I got there right after the Iowa caucuses that year were wrapping up. And Iowa was a swing state back in those times, and so I hit the ground running there as well. There was a very competitive race between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, then I covered a couple legislative sessions before starting as Morning Edition host and continued to cover the Iowa caucuses. That's where people have probably heard me in the past on these airwaves, covering the 2016, the 2020, and now, trying to finish up covering the 2024 Iowa caucuses.

CATHY WURZER: What's it like to be shoulder to shoulder with the national news media during the Iowa caucuses?

CLAY MASTERS: Well, it's such a circus, right, Cathy? I mean, people just parachute in. All of a sudden, you have a bunch of seemingly, experts, as they see themselves, as they're descending on the State that the Iowa press corps is spending a lot more time on the ground.

And you really just see the show that encircles Iowa. The Iowa caucuses, for the last 50 years, have been leading off the presidential nominating cycle. You probably remember in 2020, things didn't go so well. There was an app that stopped working, and so there were no results the next morning. And of course, the Iowa caucuses, it's all about claiming that big mo, the momentum out of Iowa, and nobody could do it.

And so it's this circus, and 2020, you saw the wheels come off. 2024, the Republican presidential nominating process has been so different with the former president, Donald Trump, running, and it's a circus that you watch unfold, and then everybody stops paying attention to Iowa right after the caucuses are done.

CATHY WURZER: Because the Democratic Party officially dislodged Iowa from its pri status as the first state in the presidential nominating process, how are Democrats in Iowa feeling about that?

CLAY MASTERS: Well, there's nobody that's really-- that is just clamoring to keep Iowa first other than those that are really ingrained in the process. I mean, there's been so many people that I've talked to over the years that have said, hey, I wish this was a primary vote, but I can also talk out of both sides of my mouth all day about the positives for the caucuses.

They bring people in to be more engaged with the parties in past cycles, but the Iowa Democratic Party has said they're going to try, again, in four years to try to be first in the nation or to be at least in that early window. But I mean, I really feel like the time has passed the Democratic party by in Iowa, as it has become such a more entrenched Red State. And I think you're going to really be looking-- what I will be looking for is what turnout is actually like on caucus night for Republicans.

Because I mean, if turnout is really low, I mean, I wonder what kind of incentive the Republican Party would have in keeping things in Iowa.

CATHY WURZER: Right. Interesting. Once the caucuses are over, you're going to be gearing up for the Minnesota legislative session. What are you looking forward to?

CLAY MASTERS: Well, like any good reporter, as I come in to a new newsroom, I talk with those around me. Brian Bakst and Dana Ferguson have been really helpful. Dana has been saying, this will be expected to be a slower session because they passed so many priorities last year, and there's a smaller pot of money to deal with, also, keeping an eye on how things are going to be talked about as they're testing campaign slogans during an election year.

I mean, you see it in Iowa. I covered politics in Nebraska prior to that, and any election year, you start hearing the murmurs of what people are going to be trying out on the campaign trail.

CATHY WURZER: What kind of immersion have you had into Minnesota politics so far? I asked that, I know you're just incredibly busy. You've just moved up here, but have you had an opportunity to do any reading beyond talking to Brian and Dana? Have you had any chance to talk to lawmakers?

CLAY MASTERS: That process is starting right now. On the ground, finishing up covering the Iowa caucuses and then pivoting to Minnesota politics, I mean, I spent a lot of time, four years ago, following Amy Klobuchar around the State of Iowa, so I'm familiar with her kind of stump speeches and priorities and what she talks about. So I'm just looking forward to, once we turn the page in the next couple of weeks, to really be able to meet the right players, the people that I'm going to be spending a lot more time, meeting a whole new cast of characters than I've had in the past.

CATHY WURZER: One of the best parts of my whole career was covering the Minnesota State legislature back in the day.


CATHY WURZER: What do you love about covering politics?

CLAY MASTERS: I mean, I don't know if I love covering politics so much as I enjoy just seeing the process and how the different lawmakers come to their conclusions and then watching how that actually affects people. I mean, I've been a big proponent in past newsrooms in trying to take issues, whether they be environmental issues or health care issues and then figuring out how those actually affect, in this case, Minnesotans.

And in Iowa, I did a big project over 10 years ago, when they were expanding Medicaid, people that were actually on Medicaid, how it affects them. I've done a lot of environmental reporting on Iowa's dwindling natural resources and water quality and the legislation that doesn't get passed in a State and how that affects our rivers, lakes, and streams. So what I really look forward to in covering politics is being there at the Capitol, seeing how the sausage is made, and then figuring out how that correlates to people that are directly affected by those-- the voters, the taxpayers, the Minnesotans.

CATHY WURZER: There are some political reporters who say, it's not as enjoyable as it was to cover politics because of the discord among voters, mistrust. Have you run into that in Iowa?

CLAY MASTERS: Oh, yeah. I mean, you've seen it in the way that even Republican politicians in that State have eased back on holding regular press conferences or talking with the press, but I mean, the thing that I've realized so much in talking with people at so many of these rallies over the last year is you still need to be able to have a conversation, right?

You still need to be able to talk to people, meet people where they are, and hear their concerns. And you need to be able to-- as for my job, as a reporter-- is to take those concerns and figure out the translation how that correlates to the policies that are being made at the Capitol. Because if you lose touch of just being able to talk to people, you lose a lot in fundamentals in American democracy.

CATHY WURZER: I know I asked you about immersion in Minnesota politics. We should say though that you are not a stranger to the State of Minnesota. You have some family ties.

CLAY MASTERS: That's right. So my wife is originally from the Twin Cities, so in a way, it's a homecoming for her. We've been coming up to the State for the last 20 years, first, when we were in college in Nebraska, and then also, living in Iowa. And I grew up coming up here as a kid. I had family in the Twin Cities. I always looked forward to being out on the lakes and enjoying the natural environment.

And I'm excited to move to Minnesota. It's a State that's felt like a second or third home for many years, and it's fun to actually be able to call it home.

CATHY WURZER: Now, have you moved yet?

CLAY MASTERS: That is going to be a slow process, Cathy. We're getting there.

CATHY WURZER: Clay, that's a lot of work. All right, we are so happy that you're here. Thank you so much for joining us.

CLAY MASTERS: Yeah, happy to be here. Thanks so much, Cathy.

CATHY WURZER: We've been talking to Clay Masters. He's MPR's newest senior politics reporter.

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