Fussing Over Polls

idahoWhat to Make Of Early Polls

A new Rasmussen poll out last week, not surprisingly, shows Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter with a commanding lead over his Democratic challenger and first-time candidate Keith Allred.

Typically, the two camps had different takes on the new numbers and in a curious way, I think, both are probably right. The governor’s camp takes heart that he is ahead, perhaps quite comfortably. The poll has the race at 60-28. Allred’s campaign has a point that a horse race poll at this stage, particularly in light of all the media attention Otter has received over the last two weeks, may tell us a good deal less than meets the eye.

[Rasmussen’s results and methodology have its detractors – most from the liberal side – and I’ll look at that and offer other thoughts on polling tomorrow.]

Still, last week’s Rasmussen poll does help cement the developing storyline that Otter is the prohibitive favorite. There is a lot of time until November, but that perception is starting to set. The poll, among other things, should be a wake up call to the Democratic campaign. In would appear that the buzz Allred created with his announcement in December was temporary and this race now has many of the makings of settling into the same kind of contest Idaho Democrats have lost every four years since 1994. For example, if the Rasmussen numbers are taken at face value, Allred – a one-time independent turned Democrat – has barely begun to solidify the puny Idaho Democratic base that I think can reasonably be calculated at plus or minus 30%.

The State of the Race

In any poll right now Otter, a long-time fixture in Idaho politics with a very high name ID, will score well. He’s been in the news constantly for the last few weeks, shutting down the legislature and suing the feds over health insurance reform. In an Idaho that we instinctively know is very wary of the recently passed reform legislation, anyone pushing back against that legislation is bound to look pretty good. Legislative Republicans and the governor certainly understand that dynamic and have attempted to ride the wave. Even as many commentators predict failure for the lawsuit strategy, unless Republicans overplay their hand, even in defeat, the lawsuit may prove to be good politics in Idaho.

Additionally, the high profile critique of what has been happening in Washington has helped Otter shore up his own standing within the fractious Idaho Republican Party. The governor will dominate statewide news again this week with an announcement tour that is certain to garner much local media attention.

The Rasmussen poll also highlights the huge challenge facing Allred. He not only needs to introduce himself to hundreds of thousands of Idahoans, he needs to present a compelling story for why he, in a year strongly tending in the direction of Republicans, deserves their votes. Allred may live to regret not maintaining a higher profile during the contentious legislative session just ended. He might have been able to begin to more fully sketch out the rationale for his candidacy in the midst of all the attention the public and media were lavishing on budget cuts, particularly to education, and bashing the feds. This, after all, is the legislature that found plenty of time to debate meaningless memorials to Congress, but couldn’t get around to banning texting while driving. The governor concluded the session by praising the lawmakers. There is the making of a message in there somewhere.

So, taken all together the Rasmussen poll – without too much focus on the specific numbers – is probably a reasonable snap shot of where the race stands today. Otter – well known with a big lead and riding a popular wave. Allred – yet to define himself or his issues and likely having squandered a defining place on the stage during the recent legislative session.

Tomorrow…Reading the Polls

Let the Games Begin

baseballAnything to Say, Dear?

My all-time favorite cartoon appeared in the New Yorker several years ago.

In the cartoon, a fellow is settling into his big, comfortable chair with the TV remote control in hand. He says to his wife standing nearby: “Anything you’d like to say, dear, before the baseball season begins?”

While every team is in first place, before the post mortem begins on President Obama’s fastball – he’s throwing out the first pitch at the National’s home opener – and while you still have one ear tuned to the spouse it might be an appropriate moment to soak up some baseball trivia.

For example, did you know that Bullet Bob Feller, as a 21 year old fireballer with the Cleveland Indians, threw baseball’s only complete game opening day no hitter? It happened in 1940. You can look it up.

Play ball!…and, what was that dear?

Red Sox vs. Yankees

imagesCAUJXUMXThe Great Rivalry Launches a New Season

The forecast for Fenway tomorrow night is fair and unseasonably warm. Good enough. It has been a long winter.

Josh Beckett vs. C.C. Sabathia as the best rivalry in baseball tees up the season.

This time of year – just before a new season unfolds – I always recall the classic comment of the great Rogers Hornsby. He holds the record for the all-time highest batting average by a right handed hitter. His .358 lifetime average is the record for the National League. He hit .424 in 1924. The guy could hit. He also loved the great game.

“People ask me,” Hornsby said, “what I do in the winter time when there is no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.”

The wait is almost over.

Second Acts

brownBeen There, Done That

You have to wonder why Jerry Brown would want the job. California, among the biggest economies in the world, is flat broke; $20 billion – with a B – in debt. The state has spent the last few years dismantling a world-class higher education system and the politics in Sacramento are nearly as toxic as Washington, D.C. Still, Brown is one of five former governors - Maryland’s Bob Ehrlich is the latest – who are seeking to get their old jobs back.

The Oregonian’s political reporter Jeff Mapes had a piece yesterday on the phenomenon – he was nice enough to call and visit about my experience – of just what it is about the governorship that appeals to people who have been there, done that.

The king of the northwest comeback, Cecil Andrus, has always said being governor is the best political job in the world. Andrus is the only Idahoan to be elected four times and in three decades – the 1970’s, 1980’s and 1990’s.

If one wants to work hard, push an agenda, be totally accountable, and available to the press and the public 24/7, then being governor is the best job around. But like most high quality jobs, being the chief of a state also involves serious heavy lifting and major responsibility. A United States senator is always one of a committee. He can hide behind a staff and only faces the voters every six years. A Congressman is part of a circus with 434 other, er, performers. Unless you reach a serious leadership position, the job is often conducted in relative anonymity. Not so a governor.

The job is about power when all is said and done. You can appoint people. In Idaho a governor appoints county commissioners when a vacancy occurs, they also appoint judges, department heads and hundreds of members of boards and commissions. In good times and bad, they run the budget and call out the National Guard. CQ’s Bob Berenson points out that governors elected this year will have a lot to say about reapportionment. And as for Governor Moonbeam; Jerry Brown sounds genuine when he says California’s mess is his opportunity.

What he doesn’t say is how difficult any second act can be. Comebacks are harder than they look. The successful Andrus second go round, for example, followed an extremely close election. In Oregon, John Kitzhaber’s comeback has drawn primary foes and memories of his comments when he went out the door the first time. Brown’s sometimes quirky previous tenure is sure to be sliced and diced on TV and everywhere else in California before November.

Still, given all the complication inherent in a comeback, it must seem worth it to those willing to put themselves through the process knowing full well what is really involved.

It has been said – the quote is attributed to Jay Leno – “that politics is just show business for ugly people.” Using that analogy then, there is always the possibility of another big role, even for the star who seems to have faded into the twilight. At least five “formers” are getting ready for another close up.

Thanks for the Memories

hi+corbettCloudy and Cool…

Major league baseball in Tucson ended yesterday with a routine ground out. Score it an Owners Choice. Tradition flies out to the almighty dollar. Loyalty strikes out to a bus ride. Some of the joy went out of spring with that ground ball.

The Rockies are gone for good from historic Hi Corbett Stadium and they take with them six decades of spring baseball in the Old Pueblo.

Some of the old timers didn’t take it well. The Kleenex boxes came out and the crowd of 6,817 was more subdued than feels right at a ballpark. The wake began when they laid down the foul lines.

Ted Robbins on NPR did a fine piece over the weekend that captures what the old ball yard means to spring baseball fans in Tucson. There is some talk – maybe just to ease the reality of what has been lost – that Japanese or Mexican professional teams might spend some of the spring in Tucson in the future making use of the stadiums that now risk becoming relics in the desert. We’ll see.

The city fathers in Tucson didn’t exactly distinquish themselves in securing a strategy to keep baseball where it’s been since 1947. Then again, with greedy suits ruling the game, there is little room for sentiment or history or something different. Baseball is a business. Ask Tucson.

Oh, yes. The Rockies won 4-3 on the last day. Their opening day starter Ubaldo Jimenez got a nice tuneup for his first season start. When it was over the crowd filed out – quietly. They knew they had just seen something important, something fun and affirming, something historic, end.

Appropriately, with baseball gone not just for a season but likely forever, it dawned couldy and cool in Tucson today.

Some how that feels about right.

The End of an Era

hi+corbett-1Bye, Bye Baseball…

It’s going to be a sad day at the ballpark today in Tucson, Arizona.

Since 1947, a major league team has conducted spring training at wonderful old Hi Corbett Stadium not far from downtown. Today’s Colorado Rockies – Arizona Diamondback spring training game will be the last at the old ballpark – probably forever.

Spring training in Tucson has fallen victim to the increasingly pernicious economics of the great game. The owners of the Rockies and D-backs could no longer resist the lure of the big city – Phoenix – and will move spring training next year to a brand spanking new $100 million field of dreams south of Scottsdale. The teams are following in the wake of the Chicago White Sox who left Tucson two years ago.

All 15 Cactus League teams are now concentrated in the sprawling Valley of the Sun, in part because that’s where the money is for the new, modern ballparks and because the juvenile millionaires who play the game just couldn’t tolerate the 90 minute bus ride from Tucson to Phoenix. In fact, most of the big egos rarely make the trip south. Now they can quit their whining and battle the freeway traffic in Maricopa County. But, I digress.

I first came to spring training at Hi Corbett in 1992 and immediately fell in love with the place. It’s always been like watching a major league game in a minor league park. You sit in the sun, close to the field and inevitably strike up a conversation with folks from Denver, or Montana or Tucson. The crowds at spring training games tend to be different than regular season baseball crowds. Most spring training fans really know the game. They follow their teams and know the players.

When I first came south in ’92, the Cleveland Indians were in residence and had been since 1947 when the legendary Bill Veeck, then the Indian’s owner, concluded that his new star, Larry Doby, the first African-American player in the American League, would find Arizona more welcoming than Florida. Veeck, the great promoter who once sent a midget up to bat in a regular season game, enjoyed a friendship with a Tucson political and business leader – Hi Corbett – and they made the deal to make Tucson a major league city.

The Rockies have made Hi Corbett their spring training home since their first season in ’93.

Now that its all coming to an end – 63 years of spring training in Tucson – the locals feel like they’ve been hit by a pitch. Spring training means millions of dollars of lost economic activity for local hotels, restaurants and merchants. Pima County built the fine Tuscon Electric Park in 1996 for the D-backs and ChiSox – it was state of the art then – and the county is now left holding a $22 million bag as ticket revenue leaves with the teams, while the bond payments remain.

Arizona Daily Star columnist Greg Hansen says there is blame to go around for the loss of baseball in Tucson, including the obvious fact that the city didn’t wake up to the loss of spring training until it was too late. Hansen wrote today:

“It’s more realistic to say that baseball changed and we didn’t. No one in City Hall had the vision, or moxie, as Hi Corbett did in 1955, to establish a “Keep Cleveland in Tucson Project” thereby giving Tucson its only link to the big-leagues until Lute Olson came along.

“The last person who could have saved spring training in Tucson was Jerry Colangelo, the czar of Phoenix sports, who was forced out of office in 2004. Once the Diamondbacks dumped Colangelo, Tucson lost its most powerful advocate.

“The business people who run the White Sox, Rockies and Diamondbacks have no allegiance to anything but the bottom line. Colangelo, who worked on credit, was an idealistic, old-school baseball guy who liked the idea of training in a remote location, thereby whetting the appetite of his hometown fans for the regular season. That’s the way it had been done for 100 years.”

Meanwhile, up north, the man who allegedly leads Major League Baseball is sticking his nose into the next major spring training controversy. Mesa wants to keep the Cubs, who are the spring’s biggest draw, while a bunch of high rollers in Florida seek to lure them there with offers of a new, free stadium. Like I said, pernicious economics of baseball. At least Bud Selig has ruled out a tax on all the other Cactus League teams in order to help Mesa build yet another new park in the Phoenix area.

I’ll feel like I have lost something when I walk out of Hi Corbett for the last time today. The place reeks of spring training history. More than 70 of the 292 members of the baseball Hall of Fame laced up their cleats here. Joe DiMaggio played his last spring training game at Hi Corbett. Mickey Mantle played his first there. Mays was here and the Williams boys – Billy, Dick and Ted. Satchell Paige threw from that mound and Juan Marichal made his high leg kick at Hi Corbett. Duke and Casey, McCovey and Catfish all played in the sun in Tucson.

The great Veeck once said “the most beautiful thing in the world is a ballpark filled with people.” No more of that in Tucson.

Today, a little baseball history – the greatest thing about the great game – dies in the desert. I hate it.