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Archive for Sunday, November 10, 2002

Winners and losers, on the ballot and off

November 10, 2002

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— Before we wrap this election up for hazardous waste collection day, may I take one last trip down (bad) memory lane?

On Tuesday at precisely 7:13 a.m., I found myself in the voting booth, pen in hand, choosing candidates for 14 offices. The problem was that eight of the nominees " including the ones for attorney general, U.S. representative, state senator and state representative " were running against the very same opponent: Nobody.

A ninth, Sen. John Kerry, was running against a Virtual Nobody. These candidates were destined to win by margins nearly as great as those enjoyed by Saddam Hussein. Aside from a close governor's race, the major difference between voting in Boston and Baghdad was that I didn't have to mark my ballot with blood.

Thus, "Nobody" was added as a postscript to my own list of winners and losers for 2002. So, in an attempt to find closure and healing, I herewith share my Top 10, bipartisan and innumerate, victories and defeats.

Winner One: Incumbents. Did you doubt it? Oh ye of great faith. Not everybody ran against Nobody, but the U.S. House of Representatives has the lowest turnover rate of all the world's freely elected legislatures. About 98.5 percent of incumbents are returned to Capitol Hill. Whee! No. 1!

Loser One: Redistricting. OK, Gov. 101 pop quiz: Wasn't redistricting supposed to offer new chances for new faces? Circle false. Redistricting plans are now "incumbent protection maps."

Winner Two: Martin Sheen, aka Jeb Bartlet of "The West Wing." Yes, he's an incumbent too, but the one goose-bump moment of the political season was Bartlet's debate with the platitude-pushing Robert Ritchie. I found myself actually rooting for a candidate. Memo to the Democratic National Committee: Hire Aaron Sorkin for 2004.

Loser Two: Ron Silver, the poll-driven winning-is-everything political strategist on "West Wing." This fall, he passed through the revolving door of infotainment to be a guest host on CNN's "Crossfire." I'm not a journalist, I just play one on TV??? Join the crowd.

Winner Three: Attack ads. OK, you knew that was coming. Attack ads are short-term winners because they raise doubts and sling slime at folks running for public office.

Loser Three: Attack ads. Attack ads are long-term losers because they raise doubts and sling slime at folks running for public office.

Winner Four: Hillary Clinton. The one national leading lady in the campaign was the New York senator. Hillary brought stardust to so many fund-raisers that she went home with a bundle of chits in the pocket of her black pants suit.

Loser Four: Hillary Clinton. The one national demoness in the campaign was the New York senator. She was paired with Ted Kennedy in so many Republican ads that Vicki and Bill started to get suspicious.

Winner Five: Actress Equity. How many negative messages, especially on radio, were delivered by female voices? Ah women, they can say such nasty things in such dulcet tones.

Loser Five: Seinfeld. Pity poor Jerry. If one more person calls this the Seinfeld Campaign " all about nothing " he ought to sue both parties.

Winner Six: CEOs. Remember when you thought this campaign would be about corporate accountability? CEOs are off the hook and your 401(k) is suffering from anorexia.

Loser Six: Working political spouses. In North Carolina, Elizabeth Dole cast doubt on Erskine Bowles because of his wife's job, and in Massachusetts, Mitt Romney jumped on Shannon O'Brien's husband.

Winner Seven: Fashion Makeovers. This year, the black pants suit (see Hillary) became the uniform for the woman in politics. I guess it doesn't show the mud.

Loser Seven: Fashion Flashbacks. Montana's Mike Taylor, Republican candidate for the Senate, was the first political male to be felled by fashion after a 20-year-old infomercial showed him in a leisure suit and gold chains applying make-up to a man. Tips from the Miss America circuit: Burn those old videos.

Winner Eight: Thumbsucking. After the Voter News Service crashed and voter information was lost in the hard drive, TV pundits were once again, blissfully, unencumbered by facts.

Loser Eight: Number crunchers. (See above.) It does your mathphobic, tech-averse heart good, right?

Winner Nine: Caller I.D. Not all technology is bad. This little aid helped more voters than ever avoid pollsters.

Loser Nine: Automated political phone calls. Bill, sweetheart, you sound swell since you left the White House, but not over dinner.

And now for Winner 10 " Oh heck, it should be No. 1: local television stations. This year, broadcasters were paid around a billion bucks for those wonderful ads we know and enjoy.

Loser 10: Local television stations. Big bucks, small news coverage. In the big 50 media markets, the newscasts ran four times as many political commercials as political stories. License, anyone?

So much for the 2002 election. Amen and farewell. And yes, Virginia (and 49 other states), the real winner is ... Nobody.




" Ellen Goodman is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.

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