Serious people dislike
horse-race political coverage. Apart from cable-TV spectacles like
the Kobe Bryant trial, nothing's more
mindless than handicapping presidential campaigns. Alas, high-mindedness tends to be self-defeating in American politics. Besides titillation
at hearing words like "panties" on TV, people follow celebrity trials for the same reason they watch ballgames: to see who wins.
George W. Bush
can certainly be beaten. A recent ABCNEWS/Washington Post poll shows him
leading a generic Democrat
just 48-47, within the margin of error. Only 47 percent approve of his handling of Iraq; 51 percent disapprove. Even larger majorities
disapprove of Bush's record on the Federal budget, taxes, health care, Social Security, etc. Most Democrats would see his election
(I almost wrote "re-election") as a national catastrophe. A Marist poll shows 44 percent of registered voters definitely planning to
vote against Bush; only 38 percent definitely supporting him.
But you can't beat
somebody with nobody, and right now only party activists are paying attention
to the contest for the Democratic
nomination. Polls also reveal that many have no idea who's running nor what they stand for. True, this is partly due to the congenital sloth
and ignorance of American voters, a taboo subject pundits avoid, both because it insults the customers and diminishes our own self-importance.
But public indifference
also results from the perception that the Democratic contest makes for
lousy TV. A recent debate on CNN
drew a 1.8 share, right down there with "World's Strongest Man" contests and infomercials on The Shaving Channel. With nine candidates,
there's no possibility of real debate, and the entire exercise is contaminated by fakery. Every minute spent gravely attending to Dennis Kucinich
or Carol Mosely-Braun is a minute better spent channel surfing for a beer ad with cute babes.
four among the Democrats poll in double figures: Howard Dean, Wesley Clark,
Dick Gephardt and Joe Lieberman.
Dean leads with a paltry 17 percent. But the most striking figure in the ABCNEWS/Washington Post poll is that 76 percent of Democratic
voters say they might change their minds; 53 percent say they probably will.
Of course the race
isn't being held nationally, or even state by state in the ordinary sense.
What hasn't yet sunk in among journalists
covering the race is the likely impact of the amazingly complicated rule changes the party has imposed on itself for 2004 in the interest
of "fairness." Massive confusion appears likelier. There are no winner-take-all primaries. Instead, delegates will be awarded proportionally
to all candidates receiving more than 15 percent of the vote in each congressional district, from sea to shining sea.
To be nominated,
a candidate must win a majority (2160) of delegates to the June convention.
Given that there are 796 party-appointed
"superdelegates," to lock up the nomination before the Boston convention, somebody has to win 61 percent of the elected delegates in a nine
candidate field over two short months between February and early April 2004. Given strong regional differences and favorite son candidates,
the odds of a deadlocked and/or brokered convention appear extremely high.
Would that make
for good TV? Maybe. Or it could degenerate into farce, perpetuating the
notion that Democrats are too ineffectual to govern.
Anyhow, in the interest of generating a little buzz, I asked e-mail pals across the country whose opinions I respect to give me simulated pari-mutuel
odds on the Democratic race as if it were being held at Churchill Downs. Then I ran them through a kitchen blender and came up with a tout sheet:
Here's how it looks:
*Howard Dean: 4-1. Early
speed in Iowa, neighboring New Hampshire. Fades in South Carolina, Oklahoma,
Missouri on Feb. 3,
Virginia & Tennessee on Feb 9. Anybody-but-Dean sentiment rises in backstretch.
6-1. Strong in Iowa, wins native Missouri, union-dominated Michigan on
Feb. 7, but could be out of the money
before Super Tuesday, March 2.
5-1. Must finish third behind New Englanders in N.H., win in S.C., Virginia,
Tennessee. Needs to act more like
general, less like henpecked sitcom Dad.
*John Kerry: 12-1. Must do better than expected in Iowa and N.H., or pressure will build for him to pull up by mid-March.
*John Edwards: 30-1. Dynamite in the paddock, weak on the track. Must defeat Clark in early Southern contests to remain viable.
*Joe Lieberman: 50-1. Unpopular with Dem bettors due to no show in 2004 Cheney debate, softness during Florida debacle.
*Al Sharpton, Carol Mosely Braun, Dennis Kucinich: 1000-1. Clear the track for the real horses, you fools.
*Hillary Clinton: 100-1. A sucker bet. Dream on, Karl Rove. She ain't running.
*Al Gore: 10-1.
The Washington press would hate it, but Honest Al could plod home a winner
in the event of a nine horse
pileup on the clubhouse turn.
back to bartcop.com