Sunday, February 24, 2008

On the Campaign Trail: Candidates playing horse

By Raoul Duke III
Sports Writer

In a shocking turn of events, representatives of the three leading candidates for president of the United States agreed in principle to have the outcome of the election determined by the results of the Kentucky Derby.

Democratic Party frontrunners Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and Arizona Sen. John McCain, who has clinched the number of delegates necessary for the Republican nomination, are willing to end their candidacies if the 134th running of the prestigious thoroughbred horse race, set for May 3 at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., does not go in their favor.

A key member of each presidential hopeful's staff was present at the press conference Saturday at the historic track to announce the plan. Obama, Clinton and McCain will each select a horse from this year's field; if one of those horses wins the race, the other two candidates will drop out, thus effectively clinching the presidency for the remaining senator.

"It seems like a pretty good idea to me," said Joe Millsap, a senior McCain advisor who addressed a throng of 150 reporters jammed into a grandstand assembly room. "I mean, this shortens the race by about five months, and that's five fewer months we have to spend worrying about how to chase Rush Limbaugh away from the buffet tables at our rallies."

Weary Clinton aide Phillip Marcum seemed anxious to end an 18-month slog toward a shot at the presidency, which at this point appeared to resemble the denoument stage of a cautionary documentary about the rise of machines made by Pennsylvania Luddites.

"Hillary-bot is showing serious signs of wear, and several key titanium panels are beginning to rust," Marcum said. "A largely arbitrary animal contest sounds like a risky proposition, but it's probably the only shot we have left."

Obama volunteer Josh Lumpkin was most excited about the deal, despite his candidate's surge of popularity in recent months.

"I'm psyched about this election, because I know our horse is going to win," Lumpkin said. "I have a feeling about this horse. And when I have a feeling like this, I'm hardly ever wrong. I was already wrong about this when I had a feeling like this about the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl, so I figure my bad luck is over for the year. This is a lead-pipe lock."

Lumpkin said the campaign has already tabbed Speak Hard, an obscure gelding whose eligibility for the Derby is in doubt, to be the horse that represents Obama. Clinton has chosen Plastic Fantastic, a filly renowned for its sound, fundamental running technique, while McCain is going with a battle-tested mudder named Black Beauty.

Lumpkin endured the harshest questioning of the afternoon, fielding speculation about the possibility of a gambling addiction as well as the legitimacy of his ties to the Obama campaign.
"I attended Gamblers Anonymous for five years, ending right in time for football season last year, so I'm clean as far as that goes," he said. "And as for this Obama guy, let's just say I've got a feeling about him, too."

If none of the three horses chosen by the candidates winds up in the winner's circle, the conventional presidential race will continue.

Unless, of course, there's a similar bet made on the Preakness Stakes, the next of the three Triple Crown races.

"Have I got a horse for you in that race!" Lumpkin said.

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