Around mile 20 of the 26 mile Boston Marathon, runners come upon an incline called Heartbreak Hill. They hit a fatigue point at a time when the course calls for some tough slogging before the stretch run to the finish line. Rookie runners are known to pull out in agony at this point in the race.
Has our presidential election cycle reached a Heartbreak Hill of sorts? We have about six weeks before the Pennsylvania primary with nothing major on the horizon after a flurry of primaries in a tightly compressed calendar cycle of about the same duration that was forecasted to settle the issue in both parties.
Instead, the Democratic primary remains very much in doubt, seemingly teetering on the brink of a knock-down, drag-out brawl. Prior to this, there has been commentary talking about all the excitement the Democratic race engendered with the first black man and first female as two viable candidates. It brought a slew of new voters into the process and has been heralded for giving our democracy a badly needed boost of participation after years of declining voter turnouts.
But now these rookie participants have to endure the kind of long, protracted campaign battle that galvanizes voters into opposing camps and disillusions the less zealous among us.
One of the two camps is going to lose.
Either the older women, described by acid-tongued Maureen Dowd as part of the “shoulder pad feminists” (in reference to a fashion disaster prevalent in the late 70s and 80s, when the battle for gender equality was at its fiercest) will be disillusioned and angry at a lesser qualified male shoving aside the more qualified, older female candidate.
Or the younger, better educated, and more idealistic Obama supporters will be let down by the campaign regressing into to the hard-hitting rhetoric associated with the Bush/Clinton dynastic wars.
The fall-out in this scenario suggests that older women might cross over for McCain in the belief that, if it has to be a man, let it be the more qualified one rather the upstart who stole it from the better-qualified female. Or, the scenario suggests younger voters repudiate the Bush/Clinton Dynastic War plan and go for McCain based on his reputation for candor and bipartisan cooperation.
The fact that McCain garners incredible sympathy for being smeared by the Bush operation in South Carolina in 2000 doesn’t hurt, either. Tactically, having the Republican standard-bearer be the candidate who was screwed over by the current, highly unpopular president of the same party, is likely the only chance Republicans have to forestall being on the wrong side of a landslide this year.
The energized electorate is experiencing a campaign the likes of which we have not seen since 1952, when the two parties last had open primary elections without an incumbent president or vice president running in one party, and we are getting ready to experience our first real disappointments. It’s truly a Heartbreak Hill for the hearts and minds of the voters.
Added to the dreaded nastiness poised to erupt on the Democratic side of the road are the battles over Super Delegates and Michigan and Florida delegates. Posturing, claims, and counter-claims about fairness will be sprinkled in amongst the attacks and counterattacks about candidate readiness and civility.
One candidate is going to pull up lame on this heartbreak hill. Unfortunately, so too, it appears, will many first time entrants into the process, when they realize just what it takes to get to the finish line under the arcane rules established by the Democratic National Committee.