The nation's capital is buzzing today over Stephen Strasburg's Major League pitching debut for the Washington Nationals, with most sports commentators and fans agreeing that he met or surpassed expectations in his first outing. In a city that has experienced its share of sports-related letdowns (meltdowns?) in recent years, things appeared a little brighter this morning. But I find myself wondering…what if Strasburg hadn't performed as well as he did?

To draw a political parallel – election years are all about expectations. The major political parties (and others such as the tea party activists) actively recruit candidates they hope will secure the vote of the people and advance their agendas. As in the sports world, candidates for public office usually break down into one of several categories:

  • those who exceed expectations and win
  • those who exceed expectations but fall short of victory
  • those who underperform but still manage to win/hold on
  • those who underperform and/or are outperformed by others…and lose

There are less than five months until Election Day 2010, and to say that there is a lot at stake is an understatement. Yesterday's primaries underscored the fact that "it ain't over 'til it's over." Several presumed frontrunners ran into trouble and either didn't survive (e.g., Nevada GOP Senate candidate Sue Lowden lost her primary bid against Sharron Angle, a former assemblywoman with tea party support; NV Governor Jim Gibbons was defeated by a primary foe), or escaped by the skin of their teeth (e.g., Rep. Bob Inglis (R-SC) placed second and has been forced into a run-off; national candidates favored by the GOP in Virginia won, but were opposed by tea party activists and claimed less than 50% of the vote). Former politicos looking to stage comebacks were a mixed bag – former CA governor Jerry Brown (D) was nominated as his party's candidate for CA governor and will face former CEO Meg Whitman, the GOP's candidate of choice, in November. Republicans in Iowa nominated four-term ex-governor Terry Branstad to take on Governor Chet Culver (D). But former Representative Richard Pombo (R-CA) was denied a comeback, placing third in the GOP primary for the CA-19 open seat.

Expectations will continue to shift as the clock ticks down to November 2, 2010. And ultimately, the expectations that count for the most are not those of Washington pundits, but of the people who head to the ballot box.


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