Quote of the Day “It’s not so important who starts the game as who finishes it.“ —John Wooden
In college basketball, sixty-four teams have a theoretical shot to win the national championship by winning the tournament held at the end of the season. Other than seeding, going undefeated until the first game of the tournament gains you nothing. What often occurs, is a team goes on an extended winning streak in the middle of the year, winning smaller tournaments, their league title or even a conference tournament championship, only to lose in the early rounds of the national championship tournament. They peak too early. The most successful teams manage to let their seasons build gradually, saving their best play for the last six games.
TB warned the Obama campaign back in early June about the risk of peaking too early in the “Advice for Obama” post. It seemed like he tried to lay low for a couple of months so as not to keep the energy from his primary campaign crowds at a fever pitch for too long. I think that was wise, but now he has the difficult task of regaining the momentum. His speech in Denver was one of the best I’ve seen and really doesn’t even belong in the same discussion with Sarah Palin’s, much less McCain’s. But in the same discussion it is. Obama is a long way from regaining his peak form. His best hope is the primary excitement will come to seem like last “season” for voters and he can repeat the performance in this new “season.” He actually may have benefitted from the Palin hoopla toning down his “early season” victory by suffering an unexpected “loss.”
On the other hand, McCain’s campaign has been remarkable to this point. In many ways, his nomination was even more unlikely than Obama’s. Just over a year ago he was being written off as a viable candidate after his campaign went broke and laid off almost the entire staff. Then, by process of elimination, he found himself virtually unopposed and the winner of his party’s nomination. Because it was less what he did and more how others screwed up, he did not have to peak to get that far. He was slow and steady. After closing the gap and lying low during Obama’s coronation, he sandbagged all of us by selecting Palin as his running mate. The media has gone nuts for her because they love a new story, much like they had gone nuts for Obama a year ago. He’s suddenly on a winning streak.
Now, McCain finds himself in the lead for the first time. But has he peaked? My guess is the love affair with Palin will not endure for two reasons: one, I just don’t believe she’s as smart or charismatic as she is being portrayed, though we won’t really know until she’s off the leash and allowed to speak for herself; two, in the coming weeks, the focus will return to Obama and McCain. But that doesn’t exactly answer my own question, does it? The fact is I can’t answer it. Eight weeks is an eternity in politics. There is no historical American race that compares with this one. Is it a new era? Will all those new Obama voters remain excited and continue his unprecedented turnout? Have I underestimated the Palin effect on single issue women voters and/or a reenergized fundamentalist base? I’ll be anxiously and eagerly waiting to find out which side can perform best now that its time to play for the championship.