Bottom of the ninth: Dreaming of a write-in ballot
By Jeff Flock
CNN Chicago Bureau Chief
This news analysis was written for CNN Interactive.
The New York Yankees celebrate after defeating the New York Mets in Game 5 of the World Series on October 26 to become the 2000 World Series Champions
CHICAGO (CNN) -- As one of the few reporters anywhere who's covered both the presidential campaign and the World Series within the past month, I am drawn to the wisdom of Yogi Berra.
"It ain't over 'til it's over," I've decided, works well for both baseball and balloting.
What the Hall of Fame Yankee catcher was saying was that unlike basketball or football where a clock ends the game, a baseball game is not over until the last out. In baseball, you can be down by 10 runs in the ninth inning but come back and score 11 runs to win (well, theoretically).
The clock does run down on Election Day. As with baseball, though, you can be down through inning after inning of polls in the campaign game, but until the voters pull the levers and punch their ballots -- their last "out" of opinion -- anyone can still win.
I mused on such parallels as I sat in the Shea Stadium press box last week, resting my feet from the campaign trail.
Here's another one: in baseball, the World Series is supposed to bring together the two best teams, just like the November election is supposed to bring together the two best candidates.
But some baseball fans wondered whether the Mets, the NL wildcard team, and the Yankees, who had only the ninth-best record in baseball during the regular season, were this year's two best baseball teams.
And some voters wonder whether the two best candidates have made it into the presidential World Series.
Democratic presidential candidate Vice President Al Gore gestures during a campaign stop Wednesday in Tampa, Florida
As I interviewed voters over the last few months in the Midwest battlegrounds of Wisconsin, Michigan, Missouri and Illinois, I had one question that I tried to ask each person individually, away from other people, to get an uninfluenced answer.
"You get to pick the next president of the United States," I said. "It can be someone who is on the ballot right now or anyone else you like. They don't have to have held public office or even be a politician. They must be a living person who could actually serve as president. Who is your true choice for president?"
This thinking-outside-the-ballot-box approach produced some interesting responses.
"Alan Alda," said a self-described "anarchist" who makes guitars for a living in the Chicago suburbs. The main thing the president does is appear on television, he explained, and Alda was "pretty good on television."
A Milwaukee public relations executive lamented that she thought voters were unlikely ever to choose a woman to be president. "Elizabeth Dole would be a good president," she said.
Mrs. Dole tested the waters and didn't make it to the primaries, but the presidential primary losers also still had their supporters.
"I think (former New Jersey Sen.) Bill Bradley had a fresh
approach. We're not seeing that with anyone who is on the ballot now," said Dr. Al Walker, a cancer surgeon in Milwaukee who will vote for Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic candidate.
Across town in a maintenance hangar at Mitchell Airport, Midwest Express Airlines engineer Dana Eberly said she is voting for Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the Republican candidate, but her heart is with Arizona Sen. John McCain. "He had a lot of good ideas. He had a stronger voice than Bush, and I like that in a person."
Over easy, or straight up
After the vice-presidential debate a lot of people seemed interested in turning the tickets upside-down.
Over coffee in a Battle Creek, Michigan restaurant, a construction worker said Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman seemed "more presidential" than Gore.
Republican presidential candidate Texas Gov. George W. Bush forms the letter "W" with his fingers during a campaign rally Thursday in St. Charles, Missouri
A 31-year-old airline employee from Wisconsin said the reason he was voting for Bush was that he thought Bush put together a good team. But he thinks Republican vice presidential candidate Dick Cheney would be the better choice to head the team. "He looks like he could get the job done."
An insurance specialist in Wisconsin said if she could chose anyone she'd pick Bush, but not the son. She says she trusted his father, President Bush, who lost his reelection bid in 1992. She wished he'd had "the chance to keep going."
In my unscientific poll -- I estimate I asked "the question" to about 200 voters over the past few months -- about a third of the respondents said they would stick with either Bush or Gore.
At a cereal factory not far from where W.K. Kellogg invented ready-to-eat breakfast cereal in 1894, worker Wayne Goss said simply, "My choice is Bush. I just think he's the best man for the job right now."
In another part of the plant, Bill Morrill, who has been working at Kellogg's for 27 years, was sticking with Gore. "The last 8 years haven't been all that bad."
Can't and won't
Speaking of the last eight years, during the televised portion of our discussions it was almost impossible to find anyone who said they liked or even admitted to voting for President Clinton.
But in private, fully five of the people I asked "the question" wanted to give Clinton a third term.
"Every one of them does something wrong," said a suburban Chicago mother. "Some day he'll be thought of as one of our best presidents."
Who was the winner in this unscientific straw poll? An African-American man who has never run for public office in his life: Colin Powell, the retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who resisted public calls for him to run.
The comments at the Midwest Express maintenance hangar in Milwaukee were echoed by at least one person on each of my stops.
"I was impressed by his speech at the (Republican) convention," says 46-year-old mechanic Jeff Reese. "He's very fair."
"He's integrity to the end," said Reese's colleague Steve Martin.
"Powell is knowledgeable, intelligent and experienced," said 43-year-old Air Force veteran Bob Haw. "What more do you want?"
The most passionate presidential choice was expressed by another of the mechanics in the Midwest Express hangar in Milwaukee. Tim Beck listened to my question and thought for a moment. "You mean anyone?"
"My father," replied Beck. He said that his 72-year-old father William was the most honest and sincere person he knew. "He's a smart man, very well read. He understands the world and he cares about people."
"Has he ever run for office, or wanted to?"
"Nope," said Beck.
In the ninth inning of this long campaign, not wanting to be president may be the most compelling reason some voters have found to want to vote for someone -- even if it's not an option, even theoretically.
Hold on, Yogi -- it's almost over.
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