Florida's presidential primary next week is either the single most important political event since Machiavelli penned The Prince or as irrelevant as Duncan Hunter. Take your pick.
Thanks to the Florida Legislature's moving the date up to Jan. 29, our primary is now positioned right in the thick of anointing a winner in both parties. At the same time, because of the national parties' rules about when Florida can vote, the balloting has mixed meanings. The Democratic candidates pledged not to campaign in Florida after the party stripped the state of its convention delegates as a punishment. The Republicans are here, despite losing half of their delegates as a rap on the knuckles.
Welcome to the rollercoaster ride that is the 2008 presidential campaign.
As we get set to vote next Tuesday, we've already seen the longest season of expert obfuscating in the history of U.S. politics. Issues like health care, the war in Iraq and immigration have taken up lots of valuable newsprint and bandwidth -- including previous installments of Wayne Garcia's "The Next President."
But lately we've been distracted by more arcane matters. Questions like: Which candidate's alter ego is a dummy? Who hearts Pavarotti? Who connected with John Mayer about YouTube? Whose MySpace page was hacked? Which one has the Secret Service code name "Evergreen?" And will any more candidates drop out before the vote even starts (á la Messrs. Hunter & Thompson)?
Trivial concerns, perhaps. But as Hillary Clinton's near-tears demonstrated in New Hampshire (more on that incident below), little things can make a huge difference in close elections. So that's what we're offering: three little things about each candidate that you might not have known -- and may or may not be glad to find out.
• He's got a good poker face. Back in his days as an Illinois senator, Obama was a founding member of a weekly card game. His adversaries included both Democrats and Republicans -- he was bridging the aisle even then, apparently. Word has it that Obama was a disciplined player: He knew the odds, rarely bluffed and was a conservative bettor. The GOPers around the table must have loved that.
• He's a baller. Once she knew the relationship was getting serious, Obama's then-girlfriend, now-wife Michelle put her beau to the ultimate test: a game of one-on-one with her brother Craig, a former hoops star at Princeton and now the head coach at Brown. Despite being a smoker (Michelle said he could only run for president if he quit, which he has), Obama held his own. The game has always meant something to the candidate -- his father, who wasn't around much, gave him a ball as a kid. So basketball has paid off in his personal life, and now it's paying off politically: Obama has received donations from a host of pro players, including the Knicks' Stephon Marbury.
• His Secret Service codename is "Renegade." Sure, he went by "Barry" in high school, but Obama was still finding himself back then. These days he knows what he wants. When its protection detail began, the Secret Servive gave Obama a choice between several names beginning with the letter R. "Renegade" -- which has to be about the most badass codename ever -- was the obvious choice. And, just to put the vying "change agents" in context, Hillary's is "Evergreen." —Max Linsky
• He could use an interview coach. According to a Time magazine article by former John Kerry campaign advisor Robert Shrum, Edwards slipped up in his initial interview to be the Democratic nominee's running mate in 2004. He prefaced an emotional story about hugging his dead son's body in a funeral home -- it was the moment he said he decided to dedicate his life to service, according to Shrum -- with the caution that it was the first time he'd shared the tale. It was moving, sure, but probably less so than it could have been: Edwards had told Kerry the story before, with the same introduction.
• He occasionally gets confused. Edwards has made no secret of his problems with Wal-Mart, repeatedly faulting the retail behemoth for its low wages. Sometimes, though, he misfires. On tour in Manchester, N.H., two years ago to promote his new book, Edwards appeared at a local Barnes & Noble, snubbing a popular Wal-Mart nearby. What he might not have known, however, was that hourly wages at the Wal-Mart were $7.50. Work at B&N and you'd make $7.
• He knows how to talk to young 'uns. How does Edwards reach out to the kiddies? He started by scheduling a summit with guitarist and ladykiller John Mayer. "You've got to get me in the first 20 seconds," Mayer told the candidate. "I watch movies on YouTube, and if they're 25 seconds long, they're five seconds too long." Mayer neglected to mention anything about haircuts or what one should pay for them. —Joel Rozen
Adrian Wyllie was not mentioned. He is running for Governor.
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