Any Given Tuesday
By Joel Achenbach
We like to think of the presidential campaign as a chain of events, a more or less linear process in which, if all goes as planned, chaos will inexorably give way to order. Pundits attempt to impose some narrative coherence upon the tangle of data points from the contested turf. Momentum is discerned. Opinions are polled and duly calibrated. Balloting results are contextualized. Over time, a narrative takes shape, one that ideally makes some kind of logical sense.
But go talk to voters, and things get a little more convoluted.
"Bama -- Obama -- whatever the Democrat is, the black guy, he don't impress me much," said Phil Blackman, 52, approached as he was strolling down a sidewalk near the state capitol in Austin last week, holding a cup of coffee from Starbucks. A Democrat and retired diesel mechanic, Blackman was still early in the learning curve, as Texas prepares for its primary. But he had his opinions.
"I don't think we're ready for a lady president. If I was to vote, I'd vote for McCain. McCain. McCain, he seems like, I dunno. When is the vote, the 19th?"
Actually, March 4.
"Bama, that guy, what's his name -- I want to say bin Laden -- Obama. Odama. Where you get a name like that to be president?"
So not everyone's a political junkie, and not every opinion is fully nuanced and evidence-based. At our peril we smooth out the eccentricities, the rough edges, of public opinion. We make a mistake when we imagine the electorate as a single sentient organism.
Reporters are paid to follow the campaign, but normal people may have time to pay attention sporadically, or out of the corner of one eye. Perhaps they get most of their news from one radio talk show personality. For some folks in Texas, the campaign is like a circus that only now is getting ready to come to town.
Primary season offers a demonstration of what you might call states' rights. The voters today in Wisconsin are not beholden in any way to the results from the Potomac Primary or Super Tuesday. Neither are the voters in Texas or Ohio obliged to maintain any candidate's momentum or lack thereof.
In a long campaign -- and this is certainly the longest campaign since Genghis Khan was stumping his way across Asia -- a candidate on a roll can suddenly slam into a brick wall. That's not meant to be a prediction for how Obama will do today in Wisconsin. Just a reminder that anything's possible. It's the equivalent of the Any Given Sunday rule in the NFL.
Web Politics Editor
February 19, 2008; 11:46 AM ET
Categories: Joel's Two Cents , Primaries , The Democrats
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