Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Sometimes timing is everything

Let's tinker with time. Just a little, by a month or two.

What if the date were Oct. 9, 2008, four weeks before the presidential election, and FBI agents in Chicago announced major indictments against Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, releasing tape recording transcripts that, if authentic, show him to be a truly greedy sleaze. Republican candidate John McCain jumps on the news, calling Barack Obama -- who twice supported the governor for office -- a candidate not of change but of corrupt Chicago political machine. "I fought to clean up political fund-raising," McCain thunders. "He's blown off the system and poured more money into his campaign than any candidate in history."

Cable news jumps all over the story, exploring the governor's relationship with other Illinois power brokers such as Antoin Rezko, the campaign fund-raiser who sold Barack Obama his home. Obama has to defend himself parrying two tough questions at the final presidential debate. The hub-bub puts a serious crease in his armor and distracts the public from the economy for several days. The polls begin to close.

Now, let's say, two weeks later on Oct. 23, 2008, terrorists take hostages at two Mumbai hotels and other sites. By the time the carnage is done, 10 days before the election, nearly 200 deaths have been reported. McCain's team puts out a new ad that says, "Could the terrorists strike New York again? Is it really time to take a chance on change? Put integrity and experience in the White House. Vote John McCain. The polls tighten some more.

Part of running a winning campaign for the presidency is a to establish the arc of a good story line. That takes timeliness: Obama's call for change we need preceded by weeks a crisis that brought home how much we really needed change. Now, five weeks before he takes office, nearly four in five Americans polled say he's off to a good start. Those are fabulous numbers.

But running for the highest office also requires a little luck. And in the fall of 2008, Barack Obama was helped by what didn't happen. It's intriguing. He might have survived the double punch of Blagojevich and Mumbai before the election. But things surely would have been a lot closer.

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