Picking winners in the presidential horse race

By Tom Allon

When I was growing up on the Upper West Side, I was a huge sports fan, my mood fluctuating with the fortunes of the Mets and Knicks. On days when one of my teams was playing, I had a frisson of anticipation lifting my already youthful optimism.

As someone who now might delicately be called middle aged, I often lament having lost that long-ago feeling of exuberance and wonder at something so seemingly trivial as a New York Mets day game.

It occurs to me that being a sports fan combines a lot of things that make life more interesting: hero worship, parochial rooting for one’s city, and a view of the world that clearly separates the winners from the losers.

If only life were so simple.

Thankfully, presidential elections feel like the Super Bowl all the time. The stakes are high, the candidates ideally the best in their profession, and we have only one winner.

As the 2016 presidential campaign kicks into high gear, I rarely miss a moment of the televised debates, I voraciously read the newspapers and websites devoted to politics and I have that youthful feeling of unmitigated excitement rising in my system.

2016 promises to be an election season like no other. I recall being entranced by 2008, as a long-shot from Chicago came out of nowhere to eclipse the Democratic coronation of the first female presidential nominee and then electrified the country with his eloquent call for change and a more thoughtful America.

The horse race between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton was mesmerizing. Like many Americans, I was moved by Obama’s backstory as the peripatetic son of an African man and a Kansas City woman, whose drive and sheer intelligence vaulted him to Columbia and then Harvard Law School and then the U.S. Senate.

Many people say that each presidential election is a direct response to America’s frustrations with the previous occupant of the Oval Office. Bill Clinton’s youthful idealism and Horatio Alger story was an antidote to the stale and failed ideas of George Bush senior.

Barack Obama was the antithesis of George W. Bush: a smart, articulate, cool liberal. Obama was against the calamitous Iraq War, unlike Hillary, and his ability to lift the country through his soaring rhetoric was a welcome change from the English-challenged Bush.

And now, oh boy, we have the 2016 primary season about to kick off in Iowa. There is something for everyone who has any interest in politics and in the future of public policy.

On the Democratic side, you’ve got the presumptive frontrunner, Hillary Clinton, the link to the centrist Dems of the 1990s. She doesn’t scare Wall Street, wants to help Main Street, and will be another historic figure if she becomes the first woman leader of the Free World.

The Republicans offer a lot of (less than optimal) options, from the new guard of the GOP (Rubio and Cruz), to the dynastic (Jeb!), to the moderate Midwesterner (Kasich). New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who was left for dead just a month ago, looks revived because of the endorsement of New Hampshire’s largest daily newspaper.

But then, there is Donald Trump, the 800-pound gorilla of the campaign. For more than six months, reports of his death have been greatly exaggerated. The feisty, fast-talking developer from Queens has made himself the focus of a tsunami of media attention.

Like many in America these past few months, I can’t stop watching Trump. He’s a walking train wreck, an entertaining (and offensive) trash talker, and a showman like we’ve never seen on the national stage. He is so unpredictable that I think I sometimes watch him just to see what outrageous and crazy statement he will make next. It’s like watching Philippe Petit on the high wire; just when you think he’s about to fall and crash to earth, he manages to find his balance and marches forward.

Like the kid who couldn’t wait for the next game, I’m now counting the days to the debates and primaries of 2016—it’s going to be a wild ride.

Tom Allon, the president of City & State NY, was a candidate for mayor in 2013. He can be reached at tallon@cityandstateny.com.

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