Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts vaulted into the presumptive Democratic nominee spot after winning huge on Super Tuesday, and since then has faced the toughest political challenge of his life: avoiding premature peaking in the polls.
How dangerous can premature peaking be to a candidate? Just ask Howard Dean ("YEEEAAAGGGGGGHHHHH!"). Last fall he was peaking like crazy. He peaked himself all the way to front-runner status. But before the Iowa caucuses, he peaked prematurely and his support quickly shriveled up, becoming limp and unresponsive.
Two questions come to mind: 1) Could the same thing happen to Kerry as he takes on President Bush? And 2) are we still talking about the election?
Premature peaking is nothing to chuckle about and nudge each other knowingly behind a candidate's back. It is a serious condition that I am confident and manly enough to admit would never happen to me should I ever run for elected office.
But this year's presidential candidates aren't me. There are seven months left before Election Day, then a month figuring out whom the Florida voters really meant to vote for, then a week while the Supreme Court picks a winner. The worst thing now for any candidate would be if they were ahead in the polls.
Therefore, expect John Kerry to continue campaigning as always: by giving speeches, being tall, and having hair that serves as a poignant reminder, in these difficult times, of what Andrew Jackson's hair could have been with styling gel.
Meanwhile, President Bush will continue doing what he does best: raising enough campaign cash to eliminate the federal deficit - twice; taunting Saddam in his cell every morning by eating a McGriddle breakfast sandwich in front of him; and appearing perplexed while handling important national issues when in reality he is confused.
These actions by the two major party candidates should be enough to ensure that Ralph Nader moves ahead in the polls by 20 or 30 percentage points by mid-summer. Just in time for the national conventions.
Speaking of which, the Democratic convention is coming to Boston, giving local residents here the chance for a rare and up close glimpse at the taillights of the cars stuck in convention-generated traffic in front of them. Commuters heading to work that week should expect delays of up to four days.
Don't think the city and state haven't planned for this, however. Emergency food drops into the worst traffic jams are anticipated (owners of convertibles, please take note).
In addition, an early warning convention alert system has been put in place, with clearly marked convention evacuation route signs posted along all major highways leading away from the city. Residents will also be encouraged to put together a political convention emergency survival kit complete with a flashlight, Dramamine and, for those planning to watch the convention coverage live on television, jugs of brewed coffee.
At the conventions, the vice presidential candidates will be announced. There is talk that Vice President Dick Cheney will be dropped from the Republican ticket, provided word reaches him at his secret location in time. Don't be surprised if Kerry's first choice for a running mate declines, and then a week later is signed by the Yankees to play second base.
After the conventions, each presidential candidate - pumped up after receiving enthusiastic support from his party's loyal, hardworking, and extremely drunk delegates in attendance - must wait several more weeks before peaking. Ideally, the Democrats and the Republicans hope for poll numbers by Labor Day showing Ralph Nader winning by a landslide.
Finally, at the precise moment (say around 9:47 p.m.), the candidate must peak. If he doesn't, then unfortunately he will have waited too long.
©Lee J. Ostaszewski, 2004
This column originally appeared in print on March 8, 2004. Inquiries about using my weekly column in your publication, please email to firstname.lastname@example.org.