Survivors and figure skating
By Doug Thompson
This year’s presidential primary coverage reminds me of the figure skating competition in the 1994 Olympics.
Press from around the world packed the arenas whenever either of the top American skaters appeared. There had been a bizarre attack upon one of the to knock her out of the 1994 American championship.
Then some little orphaned girl from the Ukraine won the gold medal, while one American placed second and the other eighth.
Somebody in the press wrote a lead about that story I’ll never forget. It was one of the most honest moments about media excess that I’ve ever seen in the media:
“This is the story we should have been covering all along.” It went on to tell a life story of that Ukrainian teenager, which was filled with adversity and then triumph.
Now, I’m pretty sure this is the first and only time Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has been compared to Oksana Baiul. However, McCain has managed a political comeback that’s been absolutely amazing, even if it ends sometime after Michigan.
This is the story we should have been covering all along.
Meanwhile, the coverage about Democratic rivals Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama is, shall we say, a little heavy. Part of that is Clinton’s amazing “comeback,” which is a big item that needs to be analyzed to death — because every pollster got it wrong. This is critical since political reporting in this country has become completely dependent upon polls.
By the way, Hillary made a severe blunder by comparing LBJ with MLK. I’ll write about that next week.
One rule I have in my modest little stab at punditry in my modest corner of my modest state is this: Sometimes, you just ought to state the obvious, because the obvious is so often ignored.
Here’s something obvious. Clinton and Obama are locked in an argument about who is more qualified. McCain has more weight of experience than both of them put together.
He’s also a force in both primaries. McCain’s mortally imperiled Mitt Romney’s bid as a Republican, and he is apparently appealing to the independents that Obama needs.
What’s the biggest difference between Iowa, where Obama won, and New Hampshire, where he lost? Well, there’s McCain. I think there’s a lot more to the situation than that, as readers of my column in The Morning News will know, but McCain’s a factor.
Crying about how hard things are won’t help against an opponent who was tortured while spending years as a prisoner of war.
Claiming you’re the candidate for change sounds shallow if you’re running against a guy who staked his whole political future on bid for major change twice, once for campaign finance reform and again for immigration.
McCain was dead meat three months ago. Every poll said so.
If there’s one great lesson learned after the 2008 election, I hope it is simply this: Don’t bet the farm on poll results.
Polling is a science and a discipline worth of respect, — but not idolatry. Sixty years and a lot of calculation have passed since the 1948 “Dewey Defeats Truman” fiasco, but nothing is certain in life.
Speaking of polls, here’s one: “Thirty-three percent of Republican primary voters in the poll named Mr. McCain, of Arizona, as their choice, up from 7 percent a month ago,” the New York Times reported Monday. Even our latest red-faced pollsters should be able to be confident that something’s up when they see a 24-percent increase.
It is notable, however, that only about a third of McCain’s supporters back him “strongly,” according to recent polls. He’s become the leader by default.
Rudy Giuliani’s tactic of waiting for the 22-state vote on Feb. 5 is, apparently, not working. Romney converted to hard-core conservative principles too late and too conveniently. Mike Huckabee’s very likable but too lightweight. Fred Thompson fizzled. Nobody else is rising above single-digit percentages in the GOP race.
Sometimes, all you have to do to achieve a remarkable comeback is to hang on. It’s not as easy as it sounds.