Jewish World Review Dec. 1, 1999 /22 Kislev, 5760
Why are we so
obsessed with 'spin'?
TWO MONTHS FROM NOW, New
Hampshire voters once again get first pick of the
presidential candidates. The rest of us will be asked to
watch what happens Feb. 1, then wait our lowly turns
when that same batch of fussed-over suits arrives at our
local Filene's Basement.
The problem with this system is that not all the candidates
get marked-down — or marked-up — fairly. Our
favorite wins in New Hampshire only to have it intoned
by the media that he "failed to meet expectations." By the
time our primary comes around — in California on March
7, for example — he's lost his electoral market value.
Rather than play this unfair game once more, let me
suggest a new political pricing system: The guy who wins
New Hampshire's "first in the nation" primary gets credit
Let me present the case for this provocative new score
Arizona senator John McCain now leads Texas governor
George W. Bush 37 percent to 35 percent in the
CNN/Time poll of Republican candidates. That positions
Bush, the heavy favorite in national polls, as the local
underdog. It marks McCain, the underdog in nationwide
surveys, as the slight favorite in New Hampshire.
So if Bush wins, let's agree that he didn't "finish first as expected," didn't
"narrowly escape embarrassment," but that he quite simply won the darn thing.
Suggested headline: "Bush victor in New Hampshire."
Realizing the novelty afoot here, let me further suggest we do the same for the
The latest Quinnipiac College poll — small Northeastern colleges now put
themselves on the map with such highly publicized surveys — now has Vice
President Al Gore ahead of former New Jersey senator Bill Bradley 44 to 41
Applying the same principle recommended for the Republicans, let's agree that
if either guy comes out on top, we give him the "win." If it's Gore, headline
writers agree now to skip the "Close call for Gore" and "Bradley makes strong
showing" boilerplate and say simply "Gore victor in New Hampshire."
I plead this case for simple honesty based upon recent history. When the late
Paul Tsongas, a fine man, won the New Hampshire primary in 1992, the media
allowed second-placer Bill Clinton to spin himself into the night's big winner.
"While the evening is still young and we don't know yet what the final tally will
be," the Arkansan told the receptive network TV cameras not long after the
polls closed, "I think we know enough to say with some certainty that New
Hampshire tonight has made Bill Clinton the comeback kid."
Amazing how well that worked! Overnight a second-place finished was
morphed into a daunting electoral triumph!
By the time I bumped into both candidates early the next morning, Tsongas
actually looked like he'd lost. The self-proclaimed "Comeback Kid," who had
come in 8 points back, was already comporting himself as the New Hampshire
The best way to straighten out such candidate-applied spin is to keep the math
simple: Let's give credit for the victory next Feb. 1 to the candidate who gets
JWR contributor Chris Matthews is the author of Hardball. and hosts a CNBC show of the same name. Send your comments to him by clicking here.
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