Three contests, five (and a half) winners.
Iowa caucus: Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee (R); Senator Barack Obama (D).
New Hampshire primary: Senator John McCain (R); Senator Hillary Clinton (D).
Michigan primary: Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney (R); Senator Hillary Clinton (D). Caveat: Queen Bee ran unopposed and still lost 40% to that fresh face, “Uncommitted.”
This calls to mind Winston Churchill’s old adage about democracy: it’s the worst form of government, except for all the others.
So far, we’ve had three states produce anomalous results in bollixed-up primaries. Nobody has anything to brag about, there’s no leader on either side, no momentum for anybody.
This election was supposed to be electric, with the first viable black and female candidates on the Democratic side and a wide-open field of vastly different Republican candidates, each with their own cult of personality. All that, plus a wild-hair former president running around, dragging with him a colorful psyche and enough baggage for a transatlantic voyage.
What could be better?!
And yet, it’s all amounting to a big yawn. The three states that have voted so far have been idiosyncratic, and each one has rewarded its favorite sons.
But a national campaign, this is not.
It’s election a la carte, with each quirky state doing its own thing. Democracy? Yes. But the mess is sending us to Snoozeville.
Consider Tuesday night after the results from the Michigan primary were announced. Romney gave a victory speech that was delivered with about as much vim and vigor as Bill Clinton at a Sexaholics meeting. Romney didn’t look ecstatic, as most candidates are after an important win. He just looked relieved.
The greatest excitement that night came from the whopping 40% of Michigan Democrats who’d rather have a Pet Rock as president than Hillary Clinton.
Speaking of those crazy cats, they spent that evening debating in Las Vegas. There the greatest excitement came after the debate, when Clinton and Obama dueled over whom could sign the most autographs. Omnipresent Hillary aide Huma Abedin – -the candidate’s self-described 24-hour “body person”– stood hipside and helpfully directed the autograph traffic. Obama didn’t need assistance. In fact, watching him stand on the stage signing autographs just a few steps from Herself, I noted that he was surrounded by a halo of light. Right on cue for his “savior” message.
Also noteworthy: Bill Clinton was not in the Vegas audience. Was he A) visiting OJ in jail; B) on the Strip, pushing coins into the slots in honor of his mother; or C) on the Strip, sliding dollar bills into the G-string of a stripper named Candy?
Onward they — and we — go to South Carolina. Fred Thompson has poured a lot of time and resources into the state, which is do or die for him. He faces stiff competition from fellow Southerner Mike Huckabee, who’s chasing evangelical votes there with the fervor of Bill Clinton pulling into Hooters.
Since they are going after the same votes, Thompson and Huckabee could essentially neutralize each other and create an opening for John McCain or Romney. Romney is powered a bit by his Michigan win, but South Carolina may do what New Hampshire did and try to make up 2000 to him. Never discount the “revenge” vote. Voters want to know what a candidate has done for them lately and what they will do. But they also have long memories and often attach strong emotions to their candidate. December 12, 2000 had every liberal in America in tears when the presidency went to George W. Bush. We make all kinds of investments in our candidates, and when we think they wuz robbed, we want revenge. This is why so many Democrats wanted Al Gore to run again this year, and it’s also why McCain has now picked up some traction.
And then there’s Rudy. The former Mayor of New York was supposed to be the fireball of this race: unpredictable, giving good copy, steamrolling the competition (and Queen Bee too, while he was at it). Instead, he’s relegated to sitting atop fire trucks in Florida, waving from above like a washed-up beauty queen. It’s not impossible for him to score a first-place finish there and set in motion an entirely new dynamic. But while sometimes the tortoise wins the race, the snail rarely does.
So much for the most electrifying election since Nixon-Kennedy.
No wonder Americans are riveted by Britney running off with a paparazzo. Most Americans are asking themselves: where’s our knight in shining armor? (And if you think it’s New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, know this: if he enters the race, he’ll be wearing armor, all right, but it won’t be particularly shiny.)
This election, with all of its bells and whistles, still has us grasping for something more. And asking a rather existential question: Is this all there is?