The election math

Behind The News
September 9, 2008 1:20:03 PM PDT
Tommy Lasorda, the bigger-than-life former manager of the Dodgers, used to gather his players right before the season would start and scrawl on a blackboard what for many was higher math. Every team, he would say, will win one-third of its games. (I'll do the math for you: it's 54). And every team will lose one-third of its games. (Again, I'll do the math. Lemme see -- 3 into 162; carry the 1 - hey, look at that, again, it's 54.)

It's the other third of the games that determines, he told the players who were still on the same page as he was, whether you are the champions, or in last place, or somewhere in-between.

In addition to keeping my fractional math skills sharp, I've always loved Lasorda's motivational equation. Because it doesn't apply just to baseball.

It certainly applies to politics - or at least to elections.

The truth about our divided country is that, roughly, 45% of the voters will cast ballots for Barack Obama, and roughly 45% will do the same for John McCain.

It's the other 10% who hold the key to the election - and it's that small sliver of voters who will be targeted by both campaigns as the crucial audience in the next two months.

(I know, I know - it's the electoral college that matters, not the popular vote. But allow me this argument for the sake of today's column.)

These kinds of equations is why candidates typically move to the political center, in their attempt to appeal to the 10% - or whatever figure may apply in any given election - of the undecideds.

All of which may have given a neutral observer a case of political whiplash if they watched closely the just-concluded Republican Convention.

It's understandable on one hand -- McCain's selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate. He wanted to shore up his so-called "base," the hard-core Republican activists who have always been skeptical of his moderate politics and maverick personality.

And there's little question that, until last night and with the possible exception of Joe Lieberman, these uber-Republicans took over the convention and its message.

It was raw-meat-politics at its rawest; it reminded many of the polarities from the 60s and 70s, when Republicans coined and embraced the "America - Love It or Leave It" philosophy.

And then there was McCain's acceptance speech. To be sure, there were glimpses of his I-work-both-sides-of-the-aisle politics. But precious little about policy, about the economy, about how he'd fix it. And there was this Washington outsider view that -- again from a neutral perspective -- was at best questionable. Isn't McCain's party the one that's been in charge in Washington the past eight years? Isn't McCain himself a Washington insider?

I long ago grew accustomed to putting the title "President" in front of just about anybody's name. We've seen just too many examples of people getting elected when few thought they would be at the start of the race.

I say this to make the point that I can easily envision a President McCain, just as easily as I can envision a President Obama.

But I think the hope of most Americans is that these two men - and their running mates - give us an honest campaign over the next two months, a campaign that challenges us to think, and question, and talk to each other about issues - real issues, important issues.

That's it. Rant over. Just a thought after being at one convention for a week, and watching closely the other convention for a week.

We'll have the latest from the campaign trail, for all four candidates, tonight at 11. And we'll include a less-than-stellar jobs report (the economy is, after all, "issue number one"), in which the unemployment rate jumped to 6.1 percent last month - the highest level in the past five years. In fact, since the start of this year, more than 600,000 jobs have been lost - nearly 15% of them last month.

And two more notes about the conventions: We at Eyewitness News have had the largest contingent of anchors, reporters and behind-the-scenes staff of any broadcast TV station in the Tri-State. We did that - and it's not inexpensive - because we believe it serves you, our viewers.

I also want to thank all the people who made it happen - people on the road and here in New York. It's an enormous about of work, and requires the long hours of a lot of people. I thank them for all that these past two weeks.

And finally, our role in covering the election - like it is in all our of stories - is to present the facts and explain what is happening. There are some who think we sometimes take a position - but we don't. It's not our job.

Apropos of that - our Sr. Executive Producer Bill Bouyer, who keeps track of the mail we get from viewers, tells me that we have, not surprisingly, received many letters and e-mails these past two weeks about the candidates. Some say we're pro-Obama, others say we're pro-McCain.

Here's what's interesting: Bill says the complaints are running just about dead even - 50/50. All of which says, at least to us, that we must be doing it right.

Also at 11 tonight, we're following the storm that's moving into our area. It's a pretty name, Hanna. But it's not such a pretty storm. It's coming on shore, this Hanna that could be a hurricane. And it's going to pretty much affect all of us tomorrow. For anyone planning a wedding, which includes the person writing this column, it's interfering with a few of the minor logistics, like the ceremony, cocktails and dinner. Other than that, no biggie.

Lee Goldberg is tracking Hanna and the Hurricane behind it, Ike. He'll have his AccuWeather forecast, at 11.

And Tappy Phillips has the story of a woman who traveled from Canarsie in Brooklyn, to San Antonio. She made it find. Her belongings didn't. She called Tappy and got 7 On Your Side to help out with this moving mess.

We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Marvell Scott, in for Scott Clark, with the night's sports. I hope you can join us, tonight at 11, right after 20/20.