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February, 2007:

Handicapping Super Bowl XLIII (and other shots in the dark)

This first (real) post isn’t to tell you how I think it will be the Titans and the Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII. I don’t know of anyone making predictions or accepting bets on the 2008 NFL season. It is simply way too early to have any idea of what’s going to happen. Between now and the start of the season in September 2008, the NFL will endure two offseasons, two drafts, two free agency periods, a full regular season, probably another 8 coaching changes.

The point is that things change, and that the longer you have, the greater the chances are for things to change. Las Vegas doesn’t even bother taking bets for sports seasons more than a year in advance.

It’s just as inane as baseball people pondering for too long who might be eligible for free agency 10 days after the 2008 World Series. Sure, I guess it’s interesting, but too much thought is counterproductive. Your team might not look the same in two seasons’ time anyway. (Don’t believe me? Compare the Cubs’ starting lineup here to the lineup here. While you’re at it, look at what the Cubs fielded here and compare it to this and this and this. As someone once put it, the changes in that organization have been multifold!)

With all that said, why have so many presidential hopefuls gambled much of their political capital by beginning their 2008 presidential campaigns when so much can happen between now and Election Day 2008? Even more importantly, why have respected news organizations devoted so much time (in between their coverage of Britney Spears’ hair, Tom Brady’s virility and Anna Nicole Smith’s corpse) to the presidential campaign?

I won’t even get into the inanity of said candidates spending the majority of the next 12 months campaigning in New Hampshire and Iowa. I know that the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary are first. Does it really make them any more important than states with, you know, more people than I can invite over for dinner? (Oh, but I’ll get into that another day.)

But we have at least a dozen candidates who are out on the road, mostly in Iowa, New Hampshire and maybe South Carolina (they have an important primary, too), doing anything for votes that won’t come any earlier than about 11 months from now.

The Washington Post lists 23 viable candidates for the presidency, 13 Republicans and 10 Democrats. Among the Democrats, you can say there are three front-runners (Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards), four experienced but unknown candidates (Tom Vilsack, Bill Richardson, Joe Biden and Chris Dodd), and two loony lefties with no chance (Dennis Kucinich and former Alaskan Senator Mike Gravel). Al Gore is also listed despite the fact that he insists he’ll never run again. Then again, saying you won’t run is a time-honored method to make your supporters organize and then “draft” you into running. Anyway, Gore is on the list, but Russ Feingold, Evan Bayh, Rod Blagojevich, John Kerry and Al Sharpton are off the list. Sure they’ve all said they’re not going to run, but Obama swore until he was blue in the face that he was not ready to run either.

The Republican candidates are a mix of unknowns, retreads and one-issue ponies. As much as it hurts, it’s true. This crop doesn’t quicken my pulse any more than the late August rain delay in the middle of a Pirates-Reds doubleheader.

There’s Sam Brownback. What can I tell you about him? He converted to Catholicism sometime over the past decade.

There’s Jim Gilmore, who apparently was chair of the RNC when I wasn’t looking.

There’s Newt Gingrich, who is a brilliant guy — conservative, too. Unfortunately, his name is too toxic for voters to embrace him in a general election.

You have Rudy Giuliani, maybe a good choice in a post-9/11 world. But his social views are too far left to win in a primary, while his prosecutorial and mayoral record would galvanize the hippie-left against him in the general election.

You have Chuck Hagel, who can boast he’s against the war, but offers little substance beyond his war opposition; Mike Huckabee, the latest Arkansas governor from Hope, who lost 200 pounds or something; Duncan Hunter, the former armed services committee chair; John McCain, who proudly sponsored a bill that is the most egregious violation of the First Amendment to date; George Pataki, the ineffective New York governor; Ron Paul, the principled conservative/libertarian who has no chance even if he should; Mitt Romney, whose first name will now be Mormon, as in Mormon Mitt Romney; Tom Tancredo, whose harsh rhetoric and demagoguing on illegal immigration damages the discourse on an important topic; and Tommy Thompson, the Wisconsin governor who ran HHS for awhile as a reward for helping W in 2000.

At any rate, the declared candidates are hard at it, going from key state to key state to key state, looking to be their respective parties’ nominee come next summer.

This is a gamble of a minimum of $25 million. That’s just to buy into the contest. So says Vilsack, who dropped out of the race over the weekend. What could happen over the next 12 months (let alone the next 15 months until the last of the primaries, 17 months until the conventions and 20 months until the November elections)?

  • A sudden shift in the fortunes of the war. As unfathomable as it might sound now, a sharp reduction in violence in Iraq, followed by the handover of security to the Iraqis, accompanied by a stabilization of the Iraqi government, ushering in a less volatile Middle East would hurt those candidates calling for an immediate pullout now. Actually, so would an immediate pullout that’s met with swift, severe consequences.
  • A bounce in George Bush’s approval ratings. Clinton’s approval ratings were below 40 percent in February 1995. Reagan’s approval rating was under 50 percent in the Summer of 1987. George H.W. Bush’s approval rating was at 91 percent in 1991. George W. Bush’s approval is in the mid 30s right now.
  • A major economic crisis could help many Democrats, and will all but scuttle the chances of the fiscal conservatives.
  • Another terrorist attack could end the campaigns of most of the candidates on either side.

Finally, there is the matter of the voters getting to know a candidate. Barack Obama is the flavor du jour, but will he be able to sustain the buzz? His Senate campaign involved watching his rivals (Blair Hull, Maria Pappas, Dan Hynes, Gery Chico, Jack Ryan, Alan Keyes) self-destruct while he poised himself above the fray and delivered a keynote address that touched on such broad points that no one had to talk about just how far left his ideology is. Some social conservatives have flocked to Romney (someone I know suggested that Mitt Romney’s first name will heretofore be known as “Mormon,” as in “Mormon Mitt Romney”), but his tendency to change stripes on issues that matter most to them will most likely cause them to abandon ship months before the caucuses in Iowa.

 

We’re in a world of shrinking news cycles. Week-old news is ancient history. In fact, most of you will notice that I started on this last week by some of the antiquated references in it. Today’s news will be all but forgotten by the first day of spring. Why do these current candidates think that voters — even the most dedicated voters — will have an attention span long enough to stay with them into next Spring?

 

That all said I have two predictions for the coming election cycle:

 

  1. At least one of the two major parties (and probably both parties) will nominate someone not yet running. With a little bit of momentum, quick organization, smart campaigning and good ideas, someone can announce in the fall of this year, show well in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, and then start picking up a bunch of delegates in March to secure the nomination.
  2. For the first time since 1992, a third-party candidate will be a threat to win at least one state in November. With the war, the Left’s uneasiness with some Democratic candidates, the Right’s uneasiness with some Republican candidates, and a lack of star power in the election, it’s not inconceivable that someone will show up on the scene in June or July and capture somebody’s imagination. A serious and well-executed run could effect some major political realignment in American politics. My money says a libertarian candidate (and Ron Paul and Bob Barr could form a credible ticket today) backed by a strong campaign staff, good strategy and enough funding could do just that.

Open for business

I am once again open for business!

I miss writing regularly, so I will subject the precious few of you to my thoughts. Read at your own risk. I promise no nuggets of wisdom, let alone original thought. Thanks for stopping by, anyway! Here’s a little more about me.