The BCS of presidential politics

Dan Juneau
December 12, 2007 at 1:45 pm  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

The wild and whacky ending to this year's college football regular season forever imploded the notion that a playoff isn't necessary to determine with clarity who reigns as national champion. In a few weeks, the world of presidential politics may closely resemble the NCAA's "Year of Anarchy" in major college football.

Decades ago, picking a president was relatively simple. Powerbrokers assembled at party nominating conventions, obligated themselves or called in favors, and tried to pick a horse that could beat the other party's horse. Political life was simpler then. Campaigns didn't last forever, and it didn't take billions of dollars to determine who would be re-arranging the furniture in the White House.

Things are quite different today. Instead of party bosses, a kaleidoscope of state primaries is the vehicle used to ensure that no suspense is left when the two major political parties meet to crown their nominees for the presidency. In recent times, the presidential nomination process was over almost before it began. Candidates descended on Iowa like locusts, worshipping at the altar of ethanol. The road show then arrived in New Hampshire, once a small, quaint Yankee enclave of moderate Republicans and Democrats, but now a more activist suburb of the liberal northeast. In the past, if contests did not end in New Hampshire, then South Carolina usually eliminated the rest of the field.

The 2008 presidential primaries may not follow the script from recent times. Instead, they may resemble the madness that characterized the end of the 2007 college football season. Why? Because there are no longer any "inevitable" nominees, just like there were no "inevitable" teams destined for the Bowl Championship Series (BCS). Very strange things happened at the close of the football regular season, and the same may occur in the primaries.

The Iowa caucuses - - where an infinitesimal number of individuals have in the past had a disproportionate impact on presidential politics - - is a toss up in both parties right now. The once "inevitable nominee," Hillary Clinton, is practically in a three-way tie with Barack Obama and John Edwards. Her "insurmountable" lead in New Hampshire is rapidly shrinking and would likely shrink more if she loses in Iowa. On the Republican side, Rudy Giuliani - --the consistent Republican leader in national polls - - isn't even contesting Iowa and is running well behind in both New Hampshire and South Carolina. Mitt Romney's once huge lead in Iowa has dissipated, and Mike Huckabee is currently on a tear in the polls.

Romney should get a boost in Michigan one week after the New Hampshire primary, but then the race gets very clouded. South Carolina voters go to the polls on January 29, and Mike Huckabee may get a big shot in the arm there. Florida votes on the same day, and that election may be the first big indication of where the Republican nomination is going. But then "Mega Tuesday" comes up, and Rudy Giuliani may have his big day. Critical states for Giuliani - - California, Colorado, Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey, and New York - - that vote on February 5 will seal his fate. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton can lose some early contests and, barring any costly blunders, still win the nomination by winning the same states that are crucial to Giuliani.

Similar to what happened with college football, the front runners in the presidential nomination races are coming back to the pack. The Number Ones could be beaten in the early primaries, but the candidates who can make it through February 5 without being eliminated may have an excellent shot at making the political equivalent of the BCS championship.

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