Fantasy Washington: Pick your political players and rack up the points

By David A. Fahrenthold
Sunday, January 31, 2010

Welcome to the 2010 Fantasy Washington season! It's time for team "owners" (that's you, newbies) to draft Washington officials and compete to see whose team piles up the gaudiest statistics before the midterm elections in November. You've got to love a game that lets James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Barney Frank (D-Mass.) be on the same roster (though I wouldn't take either of them before the fourth round).

Before breaking down the draft, a few words of wisdom from your Washington Post fantasy gurus: Don't focus just on the players who generate the sexy, high-value stats -- the leaders in Sunday-talk appearances, pork-per-month average and SDOA (for first-timers, that's successful demands for others to apologize). Keep an eye out for officials who produce in the low-points categories, too. Legislators who pass bills, justices who write opinions, Cabinet officials who issue regulations. They're little things, but they add up over a long season.

BEST BETS FOR THIS YEAR'S DRAFT:

-- Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). I built a shrine to this man last year, a little papier-mache McConnell in my basement that I poured juleps on. He threw my Fantasy Washington team ("Boy George and Cloture Club") onto his back and carried us in 2009 with 18 Sunday talk-show appearances, as tallied by the folks at Roll Call. I know some of you are worried about him in 2010: The Democrats have lost their supermajority, which means they may make deals, which means the networks may be seeking more moderate Republican voices to talk about those deals. So, fine, you go ahead and bet on bipartisanship. I'll stick with what works.

If you can't get McConnell in the early rounds, look for Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) later: She's a great sleeper pick. McCaskill had a respectable Sunday-show total last year, has co-sponsored more than 270 bills and gives you a reliable tweet or two per day (most are actually coherent).

-- President Obama (D). Last year, Obama didn't always perform like a No. 1 pick: He let Congress draft key legislation on health care and climate change, which meant he wouldn't get the points if that legislation passed (not that it did). But he's still got the presidency's advantages, including the ability to invite himself into scoring opportunities on network TV. And judging from the State of the Union, this may be a more active year for him, with Obama taking a more personal role in fights from offshore drilling to "don't ask don't tell." One caveat: He did, at one point during the speech, admit some fault for the Democrats' problems. Major negative points. Let's hope he doesn't make it a habit.

-- Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy. I still can't bear to hear that name. Last year in my Fantasy Washington league, I passed on Kennedy, and another team ("100 Percent Certified Orszaganic") drafted him. You know what happened next: Kennedy went nuts. The tiebreaker who usually tips the court's balance, he voted with the majority in a whopping 92 percent of cases last term (according to an analysis by ScotusBlog.com). And already this year, Kennedy's swing vote has helped overturn restrictions on political spending by corporations. It may be John Roberts's court, but statistically, Kennedy is in charge.

PICKS TO STEER CLEAR OF:

--Vice President Biden (D). Last year, a lot of people bought into the Biden hype -- he'll get Sunday-show invitations with his wit and insight! He'll get Comedy Central screen time for his gaffes! But I spent all last season laughing at my friend whose team ("Why? Baucus I Said So") was stuck with him. Bottom line: Biden glistens with talent, but he's a bad fit for the conservative offensive scheme he's in. Don't waste a high draft pick on him.

Also, think hard before taking White House budget chief Peter Orszag. He could be headed for major exposure during the budget season that starts Monday. Or he could be a bust, if lingering off-field issues keep him out of the limelight.

-- Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.). Well, that was quick. Nelson became a legend last year when he used his status as the 60th Democratic vote on health-care reform to win a concession that would save Nebraska $100 million. Suddenly, he appeared to be a reliable pork-per-month producer -- it looked like, by the end of the process, every Nebraskan would be guaranteed free government-provided health care and a spot in the "American Idol" finals. But now the 60th vote, if it exists, will be a Republican's (you'd be smart to pick up one of the Maine Ladies, Sens. Olympia Snowe or Susan Collins, in the third or fourth round). Nelson hasn't lost all his leverage, but his marquee run ended faster than Conan O'Brien's.

-- Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Statistically, one of the court's low performers. A liberal on a right-tilting bench, she voted with the majority less than 70 percent of the time last term, seventh out of the nine justices. And most of her opinions are either dissents (worth a third as much as a majority) or concurring opinions (which get negative points for just confusing people).

PROSPECTS TO WATCH:

-- Sen.-elect Scott Brown (R-Mass.). Worth picking up when he's officially seated. Of course, don't expect a lot of legislation passed or podium time at news conferences -- he's still a freshman. But, as the GOP's blue-state-friendly poster boy, he's got the potential for lots of TV time. And remember that Fantasy Washington awards double points for nudity.

-- Senate candidate Linda McMahon (R-Conn.). There's no guarantee that McMahon will ever appear on Fantasy Washington draft boards. She doesn't have the GOP nomination in Connecticut, and even if she wins it, she's in a deep-blue state. But just the idea of a former World Wrestling Entertainment executive in Congress is enough to get Fantasy Washington players fired up. She's our best hope in years for a score in the game's most rewarding statistical category: SMFC. That's bonus points every time one of your players hits a senator with a metal folding chair.

We'll check back soon to see how our picks are performing. Until then, good luck this season!


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