NEW YORK — With just a handful of days left in the 2008 presidential campaign, one would assume that Brit Hume, managing editor of Fox News' Washington bureau, would be preoccupied with voter turnout models and battleground state maps.
But Hume is already thinking about how he'll be spending his time after Nov. 4. Before the end of the year, the television news veteran will step down from the anchor desk and his long-running show, "Special Report."
"Family is a big piece of it," he said of his retirement plans recently. "And Christ is a big piece of it. And golf is a big piece of it."
Hume said he had long planned to cut his workload when he turned 65. His resolve was strengthened as he helmed the campaign coverage this season and found his zeal for the story ebbing.
"The absolute, indispensable ingredient is enthusiasm," he said. "I started to lose mine. This stuff exhausts me as much as it excites me."
The most draining aspect: the ugliness that has come to dominate political debate.
"The whole general tone of politics in this country has turned so sour and so bitter and so partisan," he said, his gravelly baritone more morose than usual. "It makes news, but after a while, it's dispiriting to cover it."
The rancor must be particularly harsh to offend Hume, who has been steeped in Washington stories for much of his 43 years as a journalist, covering nine presidential campaigns in the process.
His sense of 'smell'
After starting out at the Hartford Times and the Baltimore Evening Sun, Hume worked for the investigative columnist Jack Anderson, from whom he said he learned "how to smell a story that isn't right."
He took that instinct to ABC News, where he spent 23 years, including eight as the network's White House correspondent, before he was recruited by Roger Ailes to join the nascent Fox News Channel in 1996.
"From the minute he got here, he gave us instant credibility," said Ailes, the network's chief executive.
Hume's semi-retirement -- he'll be on the air 100 days a year as a senior political analyst -- marks the ongoing generational shift that has been reshaping television news over the last four years. Since voters last cast their ballot for president, new anchors have replaced NBC's Tom Brokaw, CBS' Dan Rather and ABC's Peter Jennings.
At Fox News, Hume has long been the elder statesman, lending gravitas to an upstart network that has fought pugnaciously for respect. His daily 3 p.m. program, which has bested its cable news competitors for the last seven years, drew its biggest audience ever in September, averaging 2.2 million viewers.
Network executives acknowledge he will be hard to replace.
"Brit is a pretty hard act to follow," said Ailes. "But I have not really thought about it, and I've decided not to think about it until after the election."
For his part, Hume believes chief White House correspondent Bret Baier, whom he called "a young, attractive guy with a lot of promise," should take his slot on "Special Report."
"But Roger Ailes has imagination far beyond mine," he added. "And whatever he decides I'm sure will be the best thing."
Hume is loyal to Ailes and to the network. A political conservative, Hume said he long felt his colleagues at ABC held a liberal outlook that unconsciously shaped their coverage.
Fox News, which shook up cable news by spotlighting outspoken conservative commentators, has "given a lot of people who were probably disgusted or fed up with what they were seeing a place to go," he said.
That has fueled complaints that its coverage is slanted, as has the network's focus on stories that other media don't cover as much.
The amount of airtime Fox News has devoted to topics such as questionable voter registrations by the community group ACORN "would give rise, I'm sure, in Barack Obama's eyes to the idea that we are biased against him," Hume acknowledged.
But he maintains that Fox News' political news coverage is fair, largely because he said he constantly thinks about his own biases.
"I probably wouldn't vote for Barack Obama, but I'm determined to be fair to Barack Obama," he said. "I'm a journalist first and a conservative second or third."
Hume is more circumspect about other aspects of the network's coverage, such as the hour that commentator Sean Hannity gave earlier this month to Obama critics such as Andy Martin, a self-styled Internet columnist with a history of anti-Jewish comments.
The anchor demurred when asked his opinion of the program, saying he hadn't seen it, though he added that he wouldn't have had Martin on his program.
As he prepares to anchor his last presidential campaign, Hume said he's eager to immerse himself in a more spiritual life after dwelling for so long in the secular. The anchor described himself as a "nominal Christian" until 10 years ago, when his son Sandy committed suicide at age 28.
"I feel like I was really kind of saved when my son died by faith and by the grace of God, and that's very much on my consciousness," said Hume, who plans to get more involved in his wife's Bible study group.
There's a chance he may miss anchoring the big political stories.
"But," he said, "I think the worst thing you can do is hang on when you've lost your fastball." .