The Blog

The Bad Candidates Series

Forget the primaries and Super Tuesday, let's use computers to figure out the Democratic nominee, BCS-style.

11:00 PM, Dec 14, 2003 • By BILL WHALEN
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COUNTING LAST TUESDAY'S get-together in New Hampshire, there have been eight Democratic presidential debates during the last three months. What a long, strange trip it's been, beginning in New Mexico on September 4. From there, the left-leaning field took the proverbial left turn at Albuquerque, wandering through Baltimore, New York, Phoenix, Detroit, Boston, Des Moines and, Durham.

And what has this road show taught us? Only what we knew beforehand: Nine candidates on the same stage at the same time makes not only for bad entertainment, but miserable debates--like a blooper reel featuring the dumbest out-takes from "What's My Line?"

The Democrats deserve a better system for choosing their nominee, one that clears the field of posers and pretenders and produces a true champion. Such a system is already in place, although it has nothing to do with politics and is highly controversial--the BCS.

But what was supposed to work for college football could work this election year. What the Democrats need is a BCS of their own, to produce a title match-up.

IF YOU LIKE TO SPEND the first week of January stuck on a couch and glued to your TV set, then you're already familiar with the intricacies of the Bowl Championship Series, which, since 1998, has been deciding the national title game in NCAA Division I-A football. The BCS takes into account teams' poll rankings, their strength of schedules, their losses, and quality wins. The top two finishers, under this formula, play for all the marbles. This year it's Oklahoma versus LSU, in the Sugar Bowl. That doesn't sit well here in the Golden State, which is home to the University of Southern California Trojans, who finished third in the BCS rankings despite being ranked first in both the AP and ESPN/USA Today polls. There are lies, damn lies, and statistics--and Trojan fans will tell you the BCS rankings are a combination of all three.

One wonders how, amidst all the anger and protest over USC's non-selection, the Democrats failed to go on the offensive against the Bush administration. After all, this is a classic example of a Democratic "blue" state (California) suffering at the expense of two Republican "red" states (Louisiana and Oklahoma). Moreover, we're talking about a pair of oil-patch states. Where's Terry McAuliffe, blaming the USC snub as part of a vast Halliburton conspiracy? Early intelligence told us, before the BCS rankings were released, that USC was going to finish third. Where's Howard Dean, saying he's heard a theory that the president knew in advance and failed to act?

So how to bring the BCS to the Democrats? Let's begin by substituting "Bad Candidates" for "Bowl Championship." I came up with six determining factors--four of which are important to the nominating process, two of which are less crucial, but still reflect the candidates' ability to make news and the public's desire to know more about them. The vital four: how the candidates are faring in (1) Iowa polls, (2) New Hampshire polls, (3) nationwide polls, and (4) organizational momentum, as defined by recent campaign contributions. The two less vital factors, but interesting still as they reflect media and public interest: (5) number of mentions in the New York Times over the past 30 days, and (6) number of hits on the Google Web search engine.

The results:

IANHNationalMoneyNY TimesGoogleBCS avg.Dean1111111.00Kerry3252232.83Gephardt2633353.67Clark5315723.83Lieberman5534544.33Edwards4466475.17Kucinich5797967.17Sharpton5879687.17Moseley-Braun5888897.67

IA--rank in SurveyUSA poll, 11/24

NH--rank in Franklin Pierce College poll, 12/1-12/4

National--rank in Pew Research Center poll, 11/18-12/4

Money--rank in third-quarter contributions, as reported to FEC

NY Times--rank in # of mentions in New York Times, past 30 days

Google--rank in # of hits generated by candidate's name

THE BEAUTY of this system is that there's plenty of room for tinkering. You can strengthen a candidate by factoring in "Tonight Show" appearances, or number of mentions in Jay Leno's monologues. Just as you can weaken a candidate's chances by considering staff purges . . . or mentions in Leno's monologues. And you can toss in more polls from other primary "battleground" states like South Carolina and Arizona.

Meanwhile, this "Bad Candidate Series" confirms what seems obvious about the Democratic race. Howard Dean stands out as the front-runner; he leads in the polls, financially dwarves his rivals, and has a strong media and Internet presence.