Wake Me in November


Will the last pundit out please turn off the lights?

Conventional punditry held that the Obama-McCain race would be remarkably exciting. Everything pointed to an issues-based campaign, certain to create a buzz so loud it would drown out all that transpired in the epoch primary phase.

But unless your interest is piqued by the unexpectedly early appearance of negative ads and subversive surrogates, the mano-a-mano phase of Campaign '08 has been a crashing bore. Is it possible the public is so drained from primary battles, so hoarse, so over-blogged, and so tapped out for donations that Obama-McCain will wind up making Reagan-Mondale look like Ali-Frazier III?

Pundits tell us we are still in a regrouping, recharging, reformulating phase. Perhaps. Or is this the slight twitching that precedes deep sleep?

John McCain ran one of the dullest, underwhelming primary campaigns in memory. True, he did what was required to defeat a lackluster field of challengers, none of whom inspired voters outside their immediate constituencies. But McCain's policy points are linked to an administration most voters want only to forget; his talking points offer little that is new, even now that he's adopted the word "change"; his style points make even conservative commentators cringe.

Barack Obama conducted a vigorous, landmark campaign against several formidable Democrats. Along with Sen. Clinton he inspired vast numbers of voters to participate for the first time, while also collecting record campaign contributions. Yet, during much of this summer Obama has appeared exhausted.

It's probably a bad sign that right now the most exciting question is who will fight on the undercard - that is, who will be the candidates for vice president. Does anyone care? Quick: who was the Republican vice presidential candidate in 1996? (Hint: he was an NFL quarterback for 13 years. Hint two: his name is Jack Kemp.)

The primaries were marked by an assumption that with so few disagreements, the real fireworks would come in the general election. Now, we're beginning to see the flip side: with such stark differences on key issues, arguing seems almost pointless.

Voters face months of analysis by cablecasters dissecting McCain's 12-percentage-point lead among women who voted for Clinton before moving to the suburbs and marrying guys with blue collars. Or Obama's 8-point lead among independent Christians under 50 who don't own guns.

After the first McCain-Obama debate, MSNBC may go back to its dreary reruns of prison documentaries, while CNN's Anderson Cooper jabs Larry King in the ribs just to keep him awake.

It's been noted for months that "the stakes have never been higher" and "the division between the parties has never been greater." Exactly. So who are these voters who pollsters continue to label "undecided"? Perhaps they're only holding out so Fox News will interview them about race, age, religion, lobbyists, spouses, and whatever else bubbles up in the blogosphere. Or, more likely, they're not undecided at all.

Ali-Frazier? Campaign '08 may turn out to be more like Ali-Wepner.

Chuck Wepner, the Bayonne Bleeder, had heart. His bouts just weren't very exciting.

© Peter Funt. This column first appeared in the Monterey Herald.

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