People who tire of sports metaphors have my understanding, if not always my sympathy. Even so, watching overwrought Democrats carry on about the extended presidential primary season, it was my wife, a baseball and basketball coach's daughter, who wondered, "Haven't any of these people ever seen a seven-game series?"
Exactly. Take my favorite ever, the 2004 American League Championship Series. Baseball fans already know where I'm going with this. With my Boston Red Sox down three games to none, I was determined to ride Game 4 out to the bitter end. It wasn't like I'd never seen a Yankees victory celebration before. Bill Mueller was coming up in the ninth. He figured to get on base. Anything could still happen.
Anything did. Mueller drove in the tying run, Big Papi hit a walk-off shot in the 12th, and the Red Sox ended up winning the ALCS and sweeping the World Series. That was the year Curt Schilling, my kind of Republican, pitched Game 6 with an ankle tendon sutured in place and his shoe filling with blood.
See, here's the thing about sports fans: We know the rules, we know how the game's scored, and we know it ain't over until it's over. We have little patience for dilletantes who don't. Would that overwrought political pundits. and Barack Obama supporters, to come to the point, understood those things.
Some, including respected friends such as Newsweek's Jonathan Alter, were calling for Hillary Clinton to withdraw even before her big Game 5 wins in Texas, Ohio and Rhode Island. Alter's reasoning was that there was no way Clinton could catch up in the delegate count; hence, she was only hurting Democrats by staying in the race. The problem is that Obama appears equally unlikely to win enough elected delegates to win the contest outright.
A lead's only a lead, sports fans, until the final out.
Game 6 will be played in Pennsylvania, which strikes many Obama supporters as manifestly unfair. In his Newsweek politics blog, Andrew Romano endorses the reasoning of one "Maggie22," who argues that "(t)he media isn't choosing to focus on the uncertain contests. It's choosing to focus on the contests where Clinton should win. Pennsylvania … has an Ohio demographic and the added handicap for Obama of being a closed primary…The only difference between PA and MS is that Clinton has succeeded in convincing the media that the states that matter are the ones that she happens to have an advantage in."
As "22" may indicate Maggie's age, let's go easy on her. The most obvious difference between Pennsylvania and Mississippi can be expressed as a football score: 21-6. Not a blowout, but decisive. I'm speaking of electoral votes, according to which Pennsylvania's exactly 3-1/2 times more important than Mississippi. Then, too, Mississippi voted 60 percent-40 percent for President Bush in 2004. It's a lead-pipe cinch to vote Republican come November. No bookie would take the bet.
So, yeah, Pennsylvania, a must-win swing state for Democrats, is far more important — this year and every year. It's also more important than a bunch of states Obama has won: South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, North Dakota, etc. So when the candidate himself, a Harvard Law graduate, talks about how he's won more states than Clinton, he knows he's blowing smoke — giving you the old "okie-doke," as he likes to tell black audiences.
I'm sure Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson knows it, too. "To paraphrase Orwell," he wrote recently, "some states are more equal than others." On "Countdown," he and Keith Olbermann had a wonderful time pretending amazement at this bewilderingly complex "Clintonian" argument. "Could it be," Bob Somerby asks at The Daily Howler, "because two million Democrats voted in Ohio last week — and roughly ten thousand did so in Wyoming?" (Wyoming voted 69 percent-29 percent Republican in 2004.)
So unless Obama pulls an upset in Pennsylvania, this thing's going seven, by which I mean, Florida and Michigan, two more crucial swing states Democrats need come November. Do-over primaries are mandatory between now and the Democratic convention. To date, both campaigns have resisted, Clinton's because her (insupportable) position is that she's already won them, Obama's because he (secretly) fears that he can't. No other alternative will be seen as fair. Think of them as rescheduled rainouts.
And if nobody's won after seven? Well, the rules say the "superdelegates" get to decide. And when they do, they'll be looking at the stats: such as Obama losing 83 of Ohio's 88 counties; the fact that Clinton's so far won states totalling 263 electoral votes to Obama's 193, or which one polls ahead of GOP nominee, Sen. John McCain, and where.
Meanwhile, fans hyperventilate. Recently, I've seen Clinton called "monstrous," a "zombie" and a "fratricidal maniac," and Obama's supporters derided as "cultists" and "latte-sipping airheads."
My advice? Calm down, everybody, it's a long season.
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette columnist Gene Lyons is a national magazine award winner and co-author of "The Hunting of the President" (St. Martin's Press, 2000). You can e-mail Lyons at email@example.com.