Watching the opinion polls at this point in a presidential race is as pointless as checking the baseball standings in the first few weeks of the season, but we’re the obsessive sort of fans who do both. It’s never too early to start cheering your favorites, in politics or baseball, those early season wins and losses count, and there’s a certain fascination in watching it all play out over time.
At an analogous point in the recently concluded baseball season we were confidently predicting The New York Yankees would outlast The Tampa Bay Rays and Baltimore Orioles to win the American League East, that The Detroit Tigers would be a in nip-and-tuck race with the Kansas City Royals down to the wire in the Central, and that all that talent on The Los Angeles Angels would eventually prevail in the West. We did slightly better predicting the outcome of the National League races, partly because they’re more predictable and partly because we paid less attention, although we would have never guessed the Chicago Cubs being in the playoffs. Any analysis of the political races is therefore offered with due humility, but we can’t resist a few too-early observations.
There’s a new poll from Iowa indicating that formerly inevitable Hillary Clinton is deep trouble in that first-to-vote and therefore inordinately influential state, and we think it’s predictive of future problems. Although she’s still leading the current field in the primary race, she has less than a majority and her lead over self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has shrunk to 11 points, and when you add the now seemingly inevitable entrance of Vice President Joe Biden into the race it shrinks further to five points. Among all of the state’s registered voters, Clinton is currently enduring a blow-out. Her unfavorable rating is at 59 percent, and after a quarter century in the public eye it’s hard to see how she can turn that around, and she’s losing badly to all of the possible Republican contenders in hypothetical match-ups. She fares worst, interestingly enough, against the former high-tech executive and failed senatorial candidate and equally female Carly Fiorina, who is currently beating her by a 52-38 margin.
A lawyer friend of ours who’s a Democrat by profession and a Kansas City Royals fan by vocation always bets on the money and brand name, and is convinced that whatever candidate has the biggest campaign chest and most recognizable name will always prevail, and that his beloved small-market ball club will always be denied its due by some evil free-agent-laden franchise from the bigger, badder cities and their capitalist ways. This is the way to bet, as Ring Lardner would have put it, so there’s no denying our friend right is more often than wrong, but his gal Clinton is looking a lot like one of the exceptions to the rule. We’ve rooted for The New York Yankees long enough to know that money and brand name don’t always translate into performance on the field, and Clinton’s game thus far has not been up to a self-described socialist and Vermont senator or an as-yet-undeclared Vice President Joe Biden, or even a trio of Republican political neophytes or a smattering of Republicans who have actually held public office but might be sufficiently anti-establishment to satisfy the party’s ravenous base. Throw in the fact that Sanders is reportedly raising even more money than Clinton, and with a far broader base of admittedly less well-heeled donors, and is drawing crowds that exceed the big rock star tour that candidate Barack Obama headlined back in ’08, and Sanders is looking like one of those small-market contenders that occasionally win the title.
Another prediction offered with due humility is that Biden will get into the race, and with the implicit or explicit endorsement of President Barack Obama, thus garnering all the dwindling yet still significant-voters within-the-Democratic-Party that entails, as well as the significant organizational and fund-raising benefits that go along with it, and that he’ll mostly draw his support from Clinton. We’ve seen exactly one Clinton bumper sticker, which was somehow sitting outside the local grocery store, but at all the culture-vulture and hipster events we attend there are far more Sanders ’16 buttons. The Sanders constituency seems to genuinely like the guy, the Clinton supporters seem to be betting on money and name recognition, and even this early on it’s hard to shake the feeling that this is one of those exceptions to the rules.
The rules seem to be enforced with the now usual disregard on the Republican side, as well, where the buffoonish billionaire and political neophyte Donald Trump is still leading what was once thought a strong field. That’s still true in that same Iowa poll that showed Clinton in trouble, although his lead has been whittled down by retired neurosurgeon and fellow political neophyte Ben Carson, with that pesky female Fiorina in third place and within striking distance. We can’t help noticing a newer poll that shows the soft-spoken and humble Carson ahead of the brusque and self-aggrandizing Trump, through, and we take that as a hopeful trend. Trump seems to have already hit that part of the season where that .600 average inevitably starts to run up against gravitational forces, and the same faith we place in both the Republican Party and the American League gives us hope he won’t make the finals. We’ll take Carson over Trump any day, and we’re liking Fiorina better all the time, even if she has to run against some old white guy, but we’re still holding out hope for someone who has actually held office, and it looks to be an interesting race.
Baseball’s post-season should prove interesting, as well. Our New York Yankees, for all their money and brand name and free-agent-laden roster, are down to one game against a Houston Astros squad we never expected. They’ve got the home field advantage, at least, which would have meant an automatic slot in the quarterfinals before this newfangled socialistic system, and in any case we expect it to come down to the small market Royals and Toronto Blue Jays, and despite a one-game deficit over the regular season the Blue Jays suddenly seem the team to beat, and we won’t wager any actual money on how it turns out. Over on the National League side The St. Louis Cardinals seem the way to bet, but that doesn’t always work out. At this point, out best advice for politics and baseball is to stay tuned.
— Bud Norman