Shortly before the start of Wednesday night's decisive game between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees, the Bush campaign carpet-bombed reporters with an e-mail that accused John Kerry of "sports pandering." The release ridiculed the Massachusetts senator for being "against sports before he was for them" and went on to catalogue "Kerry's sports flubs" -- such as when he called the Green Bay Packers' stadium "Lambert Field" (instead of Lambeau Field) and when he referred to nonexistent Red Sox slugger "Manny Ortiz" (a hybrid of actual sluggers Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz).
The Bushies were attempting to spin Kerry's triumphant association with his hometown Red Sox -- who were on their way to the World Series -- into something that feeds their recurring caricature: that he is not a real sports fan but someone who poses as one.
"After 86 years of failure, why would anyone in their right mind fake being a Red Sox fan?" asks Kerry spokesman David Wade.
Sports allegedly offer sanctuary from the tiresome realities of life -- work, relationships and presidential campaigns. The last example does not apply this year. Indeed, the culmination of the baseball season has never been so inexorably linked to the culmination of a presidential race. The incumbent is the former owner of the Texas Rangers, who studies box scores as strenuously as he does anything else in the newspaper, if not more so. The other team from Bush's home state, the Houston Astros, was playing for the National League championship last night. The Astros' signature player, former Red Sox pitcher Roger Clemens, is a big Bush supporter and a friend of the president's father.
Kerry has aggressively linked himself with the American League champion Red Sox, a franchise whose postseason disasters generally parallel those of Massachusetts liberals who run for president. But the team's underdog persistence -- especially in vanquishing the powerful Yankees -- gives it widespread appeal with which Kerry is trying to associate himself. He has taken every opportunity to assert his citizenship in Red Sox Nation -- in debates, interviews and speeches, even before the team won the pennant.
"We all want the same things," Kerry said in Elyria, Ohio, the day after the Red Sox defeated the Anaheim Angels in the first round of the playoffs. "We want our country to be respected in the world, we want good jobs and we all want to beat the New York Yankees!"
In the second presidential debate in St. Louis, Kerry said of Bush: "The president, I don't think, is living in a world of reality with respect to the environment. Now, if you're a Red Sox fan, that's okay. But if you're a president, it's not."
On Wednesday night, Kerry's campaign allowed TV cameras into his hotel suite while he watched the Red Sox battle the Yankees. He reclined on a couch, drinking Budweiser from a bottle.
Kerry held a faded blue Red Sox hat in his hand during a brief meeting with reporters in Youngstown, Ohio, yesterday. He described the Red Sox victory as "historic, absolutely stunning. Gutsy, unbelievably gutsy team with a whole lot of heart."
Around the same time, the Bush campaign was releasing a letter in support of the president signed by a host of famous athletes, including Carlos Beltran and Craig Biggio of the Astros and Chicago Cubs great Ernie Banks.
When asked by a reporter yesterday if the Red Sox victory would have any impact on his campaign, Kerry laughed and dismissed the question as "beyond my pay grade."
But there are any number of baseball fans and Washington pundits who are happy to ruminate free of charge.
"Obviously the country is going to be united behind the Red Sox," says Marshall Wittman, a senior fellow at the Democratic Leadership Conference and a Yankee fan.
There's also the matter of a Red Sox championship parade, which could be held on Election Day if the World Series goes a full seven games and ends, barring rainouts, on Oct. 31. That could influence turnout in the swing state of New Hampshire, from which some Red Sox fans would travel for the parade. It's unclear whether that would hurt or benefit Kerry.
As with sports, part of the excitement of politics is that much is unclear. "You can ask any five pollsters what effect the World Series will have on the election and get five different answers," says Democratic pollster Mark Blumenthal. He says it can be precarious to conduct polls on nights when there are games because "there does seem to be some wackiness in the numbers on these nights."
Chuck Todd, editor of the Hotline, the National Journal's daily political briefing, says it's absurd to speculate about the political ramifications of the World Series, except on a purely pragmatic level. "The one peril for Kerry here is that the Red Sox might keep him up too late," Todd says. "The guy needs his sleep now and he can't afford to lose any to baseball."
One last World Series-election parallel of note: Bush threw out the first pitch at the Cardinals' home opener in St. Louis last spring and tossed a strike. Kerry did the same in Boston at a Red Sox-Yankees game the day before the Democratic convention opened in July and bounced his pitch in the dirt. This may or may not be an omen for either spectacle.