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Paterno Makes a Political Point, Too

October 10, 2008

A few years ago Penn State football coach Joe Paterno was interviewed immediately following the last game of the season - his team had just played in a rainstorm and finished the year undefeated and ranked number one in the country.

During the interview, the sportscaster insinuated that Penn State should have little difficulty with its next game on New Year’s Day and would easily retain its number one college football ranking. Coach Paterno wisely replied, "If that’s the case, why are we standing out here in the rain?"

What Coach Paterno knew was that a football team must prove its ability against the competition on the field, and no amount of talking or pontificating about the outcome counts.

This is also true in the current presidential campaign where Barrack Obama has taken a commanding lead over John McCain for now and many pundits are saying Obama will be our next President of the United States. But Obama must first be elected and the voters will decide that on Tuesday, November 4.

If the election were held today Obama would win. But elections turn quickly on unforseen issues, and the momentum in this campaign could swing back to McCain between now and election day. Both candidates know it’s too early to declare a winner. The media could also play a role - as many McCain supporters feel their candidate has not been treated as fairly as Obama. This could further ignite the Republican base to turn out on election day.

McCain has been behind in the polls before and he knows from his own experience as a naval pilot and former Prisoner of War - it’s best not to panic. Obama has been leading in the polls for most of the way but knows he can’t take anything for granted. 

The presidential debates have been a stalemate and haven’t caused much of a shift with the electorate. There’s been little spontaneity in these forums and frankly the voters have become bored with them because the candidates have virtually recited their talking points in the same way everyone has heard before.

It was great to see the country did turn out in droves to watch the debate between vice presidential nominees Sarah Palin and Joe Biden - some 73 million viewers - and it turned out to be the second most watched debate in campaign history. People wanted to see Governor Palin up close and personal.

The country remains fixated on her and the pundits continue to comment on her every campaign move. She has single-handedly revived the comedic fortunes of Saturday Night Live and is providing new hope for conservatives - who see her as the political future of the Republican Party.

While Obama continues to run a smooth campaign and is well focused on his message of change and help for the middle class, it has been McCain who has made the mistakes which have cost him votes. Most notable was his decision to suspend his campaign to focus on the congressional bailout legislation. Voters simply saw that as a political stunt and didn’t like it.

McCain was also largely out-of-sight throughout the weekend immediately following Congressional approval of the bailout legislation when voters were angry and wanted some assurances from their political leaders. It was said that he was sequestered at his Arizona ranch, studying for the second presidential debate.

The McCain campaign lost further credibility when it abruptly abandoned its campaign effort in the state of Michigan. The decision was announced on the front page of The Washington Post and came as a surprise to many - including Governor Palin who immediately asked McCain operatives to reconsider the decision and asked if she might go into Michigan to turn the state around.

Historically, presidential campaigns tighten heading into the final days. Three weeks is a lifetime in politics, and the smart money is that McCain will make one more run at Obama and things will be razor close going into election day.

Both sides should remember what we learned from a rain-soaked Joe Paterno – the game must be played before a winner can be declared.