Saturday, February 09, 2008

THE CITY DESK - Rory Riddler

Is This Really How
The World’s
Democracy Picks A

Super Tuesday is all over but the shouting. The Republican field for President has narrowed dramatically, all the way down to almost one, with John McCain the presumptive front-runner. Mike Hukabee takes the silver medal by holding tenaciously on to the Bible Belt. And Mitt Romney discovers that money can’t buy him love.

The Democrats, with Valentine’s Day fast approaching, seem stuck between two lovers. Will Clinton or Obama get the red roses or end up with a “we’re just friends” card?

I didn’t even get to vote for my favorite candidate for President, John Edwards. He dropped out the week before. He would, I believe, have done well in Missouri. Both my wife and I had arrived at the same choice independently of each other to support Edwards.

While voting at Memorial Hall Tuesday, I had the chance to visit with Republican activist Roland Wetzel. He was bemoaning that he had to settle for his second choice also as Fred Thompson had likewise bowed out before getting to Missouri.

Likewise Giuliani backers had to be upset their main man went down in Florida the week before. He had the local endorsements of Mayor York and the Dempsey machine. But their dream candidate just wasn’t meant to be, along with whatever Presidential appointments that might have brought.

Which only goes to prove that the best laid plans of mice, men and political pundits often go awry. As the host of Project Runway is fond of saying, “One day your in and the next day (dramatic pause) you’re out.” What is true for the world of fashion is true for the world of Presidential politics. Here perception is reality and the fashionable candidate to be seen wearing their political gear, can fade as quickly on an icy Tuesday in February as last year’s Spring Collection.

So wither Fred Thompson, wither Rudy Giuliani, wither John Edwards, wither the dozen or so other smart and talented men who gave it their best shot. Like a reality survival show, in the end, there can be only one.

It seems only yesterday that a handmade sign was hung from the Fairgrounds overpass, asking the question, “Who is Ron Paul?” The signs got bigger and better, and even billboards sprang up. But he hovered around 3% and nobody seemed to much care who he was after all. But those 3% of the voters we saw waving signs were darn serious about their candidate.

So too are the Mike Huckabee supporters. I know that I’m not suppose to like the guy because of his politics, but he’s just so darn irrepressible. He tells jokes about himself. He’s the kind of person you could go bowling with. Romney, Hillary, Obama and McCain would probably throw a lot of gutter balls.

Huckabee had a good evening Tuesday, even if his victories were all in the south and the fact that he nearly tied with McCain in Missouri. He’s sitting on some rather valuable real estate today.

Romney just couldn’t catch fire. I blame the dumb red foam catcher’s “mitts”. Somebody said, hey you nickname is mitt …let’s associate you with an attention getting cheap foam product more appropriate for baseball venues.

If Mike Huckabee had employed the same marketing geniuses, they might have had him waving Huckelberry Hound puppets at rallies.

Romney was also a bit blatant about buying the election. That might impress the Real Housewive’s of Orange County, but it doesn’t play in the Heartland very well. Meanwhile, Mike Huckabee just carried around his own suitcase and didn’t need to spend much in comparison. Not that I’m completely fooled by the “aw shucks” feel of his campaign. They had a very nice commercial touting his plan to abolish the IRS. Now that’s an issue to unite people.

Hillary overcame the Kennedy endorsements of Obama, which proved to have little value. People really don’t care who else likes you. They have to like you themselves. But Obama kicked her donkey in caucus states, where enthusiasm and volunteers carried the day big for him. He also showed surprising strength among white voters in the more cosmopolitan Georgia of the New South.

I knew Obama would do well. You could hear it in the streets. I found myself eating a few days ago across from where a big Clinton rally was. All of her workers were coming into the restaurant sporting her sweatshirts, stickers and signs. But they all looked like a caricature of the Democratic Party.

Tuesday evening I was eating in the St. Louis Bread company, just down the road from where Clinton had been two days before. All of the young people behind the counter and in the kitchen were excitedly asking each other, did you vote? Did you vote for Obama today?

In the end, Obama won a razor thin victory over Hillary in Missouri, and had a good night overall. He secured the victory despite Hillary running three ads to his one, sending out two mailers to his none and (wink) making a personal call to leave a message on my home answering machine. How does she find the time?

Obama has the next generation of voters excited about politics and what happens in Washington again. They are excited about the power of his words. They believe that change is possible and that political activism means something again…like it did to my generation in the early 70’s. That’s the most hopeful news I’ve heard in a very long time.

I also like a lot of what John McCain stands for, but as I kidded a Republican friend of mine, would it really be fair to have two Democrats on the ballot in November. They didn’t find that amusing. Neither do most of the conservative talk show hosts.

So did Super Tuesday live up to the hype? Is this any way to pick a President? Probably not, but it somehow works for us. It humbles the proud, rewards the meek, empowers the student, motivates a congregation, keeps us entertained for months and is a wild ride of thunder and fury. Throw a football among the field of candidates and let’s just call it the Presidential Super Bowl.