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Jewish World Review Dec. 1, 1999 /22 Kislev, 5760

Chris Matthews

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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 for winning.

Let me present the case for this provocative new score keeping.

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 Dems.

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 percent.

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 victor.

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 the most votes.

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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