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Time to Play Ball

John McCain and Rudy Giuliani at the 2001 World Series. (AP).

It had all the markings of a political dirty trick, Red Sox Nation-style. Last Friday, with New England bracing for a visit by the streaking Yankees to Fenway Park, Chris Dodd's presidential campaign sent out a challenge to Bill Richardson, inviting the New Mexico governor to a "friendly wager" on the outcome of the Sox-Yankees series, with Dodd offering a gallon of clam chowder in the event of a Sox loss. The subtext, of course, was clear: it was a chance for Dodd to remind Democrats in a certain key early-voting state north of Boston that Richardson is a fan of the Yankees, sure enough to cost him a few points in the polls. Just in case anyone needed more evidence of Richardson's pinstripe leanings, Dodd's campaign included a quote of Richardson's from earlier this year on "Meet the Press": "If I weren't running for president I would like to be number seven, Mickey Mantle, playing center field for the New York Yankees."

It's that time of year -- the home stretch toward the baseball playoffs in a presidential primary election year, which means fans and voters can expect plenty of avowals of diehard allegiance from candidates lucky enough to have a claim, however tangential, on a winning team. For one, we can expect Mitt Romney to milk the Red Sox for all they're worth. He's already held a fundraiser at Fenway Park this season, and plays at campaign events the same song, "Sweet Caroline," that has become a Fenway standard during the eighth inning-- a rather brazen move considering that he spends part of his stump speech mocking his home state of Massachusetts for its pinko politics. (Presumably, it is only the state's few freedom-loving capitalists who root for the Sox.)

Also look for Hillary Clinton to face a bind should the Cubs, despite their mediocre record, squeeze into the playoffs, get on a tear and, in defiance of history and all expectations, meet the Yankees in the World Series. This would force Clinton to choose between the team of her native state (a state she has been emphasizing in her biography as she seeks to play up her Middle American, near-Iowa roots) and the team of her adopted home, which she professed allegiance to during her 2000 Senate campaign, when she declared "I've always been a Yankees fan" and even donned its cap, to howls of disbelief and mockery from critics who cried carpet-bagging. At the time, Clinton described her dual allegiance as perfectly reasonable: "I am a Cubs fan. But I needed an American League team . . . so as a young girl, I became very interested and enamored of the Yankees." But that explanation won't hold up in a Series confrontation, leaving her with a choice that might make that whole "vote on the war" thing look like a lazy pop fly by comparison.

Clinton's nemesis, Rudy Giuliani, of course won't have any such troubles. No candidate is as clearly identified with a team as he is with the Yankees, so much so that his pinstripe obsession briefly became a campaign issue, when Salon magazine tallied up the many hours he spent watching his team in the weeks after Sept. 11 to counter Giuliani's claims that he had spent much of those weeks at Ground Zero. Look for some Rudy to fire some anti-Boston barbs at GOP rival Romney should the Yankees continue to close the gap on the Sox.

Which brings us back to Dodd and Richardson. The Yankees won last weekend's series, but it didn't cost Dodd any clam chowder since Richardson declined to take up the bet. The reason? "Richardson is a devoted Red Sox fan, and has been since his days playing ball in Massachusetts in high school, college, and in the Cape Cod League," said a campaign spokesman. That's right -- Richardson both dreamed about playing for the Yankees and professes to be a Red Sox fan, a stance that probably would raise far more eyebrows in New Hampshire for its seeming lack of seriousness and decisiveness than would any flat-out New York allegiance. Dirty tricksters, take note.

--Alec MacGillis

By Washington Post editors  |  September 19, 2007; 4:00 PM ET
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Call me naive, but I think there's an extremely small percentage of people who literally wouldn't vote for a certain candidate based on their sports teams preferences, even if it is Red Sox-Yankees.

Posted by: thegribbler1 | September 20, 2007 10:13 AM | Report abuse

Actually, Sweet Caroline is played in the middle of the 8th inning at Fenway. "Dirty Water" is played after a victory.

Posted by: dlh98 | September 19, 2007 4:55 PM | Report abuse

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