Also: Kayaking on the Tides of History

RICK HOROWITZ

August 05, 1992|By RICK HOROWITZ

Games of the 1992 Polympics: the Poll Vault: Competitors spend four days speechifying in a large convention hall before thousands of party loyalists and millions of TV viewers. Gold medal goes to the candidate who gets the largest surge -- fans call it ''the bump'' -- in voter surveys. Current front-runner: Bill Clinton of the Surprisingly Unified Team. But don't count out defending Polympic champ George Bush of the Anxious States -- he's shown he can come from behind.

The Blame Put: The economy's in a mess -- unemployment's up, growth is down, consumer confidence is shattered. Who's responsible? Competitors attempt to throw the blame onto someone -- anyone -- else. Early leader is Mr. Bush, who, with the help of teammates, has already blamed Congress, the Federal Reserve, Saddam Hussein and sunspots.

The Veep Toss: Competitors are scored on distance they can put between themselves and their running mates. Clear advantage so far to Mr. Bush, who seemed ready recently to toss Dan Quayle completely over the side. Effort has been halted for the moment, but their distancing moves are still well ahead of the joined-at-the-hip Clinton-Gore pair.

The Leap of Faith: Competitors try to convince voters that ''change'' is good, that ''change'' is exactly what they represent, but that ''change'' won't be anything too painful. Unexpected lead here for Mr. Clinton, with assist from amateur entry Ross Perot, used by many former Bush supporters as a stepping stone. (Note: Mr. Perot fouled out on his own approach, now disqualified from medal contention.)

The Back Stroke: Keeping potential donors happy is a crucial job -- the Polympic back stroke tests the candidates' ability to pull in the necessary cash. Team Bush reports a sizable lead in this event, although the Clinton forces still hope to remain competitive.

The Breast Stroke: Plenty of allegations, but . . .

Synchronized Spinning: Gold medal awarded for tightest control the ''daily message.'' Anxious States had expected to spend time between conventions attacking Mr. Clinton's record in Arkansas, but thrown off stride having to calm own supporters calling for head of Darman or Brady or Quayle -- or Mr. Bush himself. Meanwhile, Surprisingly Unified Team thrilled with current big lead in positive coverage, but bracing for inevitable countersurge as press gets bored.

Shooting Off Mouth: Open to both ends of the ticket, the contest here remains wide open. Early advantage to Mr. Clinton, for classic ''I didn't inhale,'' and Mr. Gore, for sharing -- and sharing -- son's near-death with a national audience. But late rally by Mr. Quayle, discussing daughter's abortion options, and Mr. Bush, for ''Would you please shut up and sit down?'' -- best slam of MIA families in Polympic memory -- has closed gap.

Sock Her: Object is to score goals on opponents by kicking their wives. Plenty of targets for both sides here: Sudden-Rock-and-Roller Tipper, ''She'll-Take-The-Child-To-Term'' Marilyn, Lawyer-In-Love-Turned-Betty-Crocker Hillary, and Don't-Just-Stand-There-Give-A-Speech Barbara. No clear favorite.

Team Hardball: Candidates attempt to separate themselves from campaign-staff and ''independent'' attacks on their rivals. Mr. Bush, a past master of high-road, low-road approach, already showing signs he's expecting it to do the trick one more time. Mr. Clinton laughing it off so far -- but what's around the corner?

Economic Cycling: Anxious States hoping things turn around in time to put some good numbers on the board before Election Day, while Surprisingly Unified Team keeps fingers crossed for just three more months of stagnation.

Ultramodern Pentathlon: Polympic hopefuls try to rack up points in five essential campaign skills: pizza eating, sound biting, detail avoiding, base energizing, opponent defining. Scoring system far too complicated for the casual fan to grasp, and final results won't be available until November.

Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist.

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