Friday, December 11, 2009

The Show That Never Ends

I like college football. I was brought up that way. My interest in pro football has ebbed and flowed over the years, but my interest in college football has been consistent.

And, being a fan of college football, I have always been interested in the way it selects its national champion. I've seen the methodology change a lot over the years, and since 1998, as anyone who follows college football knows, the national champion has been chosen using a selection system (the Bowl Championship Series) that is largely based on polls and conference reputations.

Let me say right now that it is not my purpose to rant about the BCS here. I probably will do that in the weeks ahead, but I'll be doing it at my sports blog, Tomato Cans.

I only bring it up because presidential campaigns and the BCS seem to have a lot in common. Even when the calendar is about as far from football season as it is possible to be, I still see speculation about which teams will be playing for the national title. And, almost without fail, the speculation centers on the well–known names from the well–known conferences.

It's the same way with presidential campaigns. I guess it's always been that way, to a certain extent, and maybe this is an example of the "good old days syndrome," but it seems that I can remember a time when a president took office and speculation about who might run four years down the line took a breather.

Now, it resembles an Emerson Lake & Palmer tune — "Welcome Back, My Friends, to the Show That Never Ends."

That thought occurred to me earlier this week when I saw a report at CNN Politics that Sarah Palin's popularity has been going up. I know some Democrats who get all bent out of shape whenever Palin's name is mentioned, and my advice to them would be to relax.

I'm not sure if Palin is the front–runner right now, but what if she is? She's a known quantity, like Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee — although Huckabee may have fallen from grace after a felon whose sentence he commuted murdered four cops in Seattle. But right now, the only names in the mix are the ones the voters are familiar with from the last campaign.

I think it is clear that the GOP's 2012 presidential nominee will send an important message to the voters about who the Republicans are and what they want to do in the 21st century. It may well turn into a bruising battle for the heart and soul of the party, similar to the one that was waged by the Democrats in 2008.

And, as the Democrats demonstrated last year, sometimes it is the insurgent, the previously unknown quantity, who wins the battle. Being the front–runner at this stage didn't help Ed Muskie, Gary Hart or Hillary Clinton.

Right now, it's a popularity contest, and only the known quantities are allowed to play. It won't necessarily be a self–fulfilling prophecy, like Alabama vs. Texas — with TCU and Boise State banging on the door, yelling to be let in. But very few are allowed to compete at this level, and they have achieved that status because other people know their names.

On that note, a piece by Matt Lewis in Politics Daily caught my eye: "[A] dark horse may be rising out of the Great Plains," he writes.

Electoral history suggests that Republicans really don't need much help in the Great Plains. If they're looking to nominate someone who can help them in a region where they have struggled, there are better choices. Turns out he's writing about Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, and regional appeal couldn't have less to do with it.

Republicans aren't rare in the Dakotas, but Thune stands out in the crowd. He beat Tom Daschle in 2004 in one of the tightest races in the nation, which made him something of a celebrity in Republican circles.

He is only a few months older than Barack Obama. They came to the Senate at the same time, and word has it they are comparable on the basketball court. As a senator, he has compiled a mostly conservative record, especially on cultural issues, that would stand in stark contrast to Obama. He's no "Obama Lite," although he has shown a tendency, at times, to act independently of his party (but not often enough to be regarded a maverick).

One thing is for sure. He'd be the proverbial choice–not–an–echo candidate.

How Thune's political philosophy would play with 21st century Republicans — and, if successful, general election voters — nationally is anyone's guess right now. Of course, it could depend, to a considerable extent, on what the conditions are when the campaign is waged.

And it is futile, in December 2009, to guess what the #1 issue will be in January 2012.

1 comment:

Brian Miller said...

it amazes me sometimes how early it starts, bu like you say i guess it never ends. will be interesting as 2012 draws closer to see the picture of what is to come...