Instant Replay: Politics as Sport

1. Bringing in the Closer

If the run up to the Nov. 2 midterm elections were a baseball game, we would now be in the top of the ninth.

It's been a close game and the Republicans now are putting forward their best situational pinch hitters -- Tea Party favorites with the potential to knock in a few game-changing runs and, in doing so, roll back some of the sweeping bills Democrats have passed through Congress.

The solution for the Democrats is simple. They need a closer; their best relief pitcher with the ability to make the last few outs of this political game and restore order to the traditionally blue states now at risk of switching hands.

So, who's it going to be?

The president? He is certainly out campaigning; but with a dismal approval rating of 46 percent, he may not be the party's best choice.

Perhaps that's why this week the Democrats brought first lady Michelle Obama out of the bullpen.

With her busy campaign schedule over the next few weeks -- Milwaukee, Denver, Chicago and more -- it is clear that Michelle Obama may be the Democrats' closer.

Will she be a Trevor Hoffman or a Juan Gutierrez? Can she pull off the save?

2. Scapegoat

In sports, a team's losing record may not be the coach or manager's fault, but fans and owners sleep easier once some sort of drastic action has been taken against them, nonetheless.

For Willie Randolph, that moment came in 2008, after the New York Mets sank below .500. Instead of firing any of Randolph's coaches, Mets General Manager Omar Minaya made the somewhat sudden decision to let Randolph himself go because someone big had to take the fall.

Similarly, former Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis' 10-year contract was cut short five years early after a losing season in 2009 and the first loss to Navy in a generation. The fact that many of the losses that season were close did little to placate Notre Dame fans and management. They needed a scapegoat.

Incumbent congressmen are this year's political scapegoats.

Reps. Parker Griffith, R-Ala., Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, D-Mich., Bob Ingles, R-S.C., and Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va., were all defeated in their primaries this midterm election season.

In the Senate, Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Bob Bennett, R-Utah, and five-term Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., all were ousted, as well.

And the anti-incumbent attitude in the country, it seems, still is not mollified. Rather, the races in Nevada, Kentucky, Washington state and South Carolina are shaping up to be much closer than anyone could have imagined they would be.

Disgruntled voters are in the mood for change and, in the absence of a coach or a manager to fire, the target is on the incumbent's back.

3. The Pick-Off of 'No'

When a quarterback's pass is picked off by the other team's defense, everything changes. The pigskin that was meant to be pulled in safely by his own wide receiver is now in the hands of the enemy. And, just like that, his offense is turned on its heels into his defense.

If you're Michigan's Denard Robinson, you know a thing or two about this because, after accumulating nearly 2,000 yards of jaw-dropping offense in his first five games, all critics seem to be able to focus on are the three picked off passes that he threw against Michigan State last Saturday that cost his team the game.

This election season, the Republicans experienced this phenomenon verbally, when the Democrats tried to intercept the word "no" for their own benefit.

Republicans stood in near lock-step against Democratic proposals for economic stimulus, the health care law and Wall Street reform. And while that blanket opposition has played well with the Republican base, moderates might not like one party refusing to work with the other.

Democrats have tried to brand the GOP as the "Party of No."

"If I say the sky is blue, they say no," President Obama has been touring the country saying to cheering crowds. "If I say fish live in the sea, they say no."

Republicans tweaked their offensive strategy and produced a new "Pledge for America," reminiscent of 1994's successful "Contract with America" -- an entirely new offensive strategy, because of an unexpected interception.

4. Campaign-Enhancing Drugs

In sports, the illegal use of steroids can increase offensive output by fueling tougher punches, more home runs and faster cycling; but if an athlete is caught using these performance-enhancing drugs, officials swoop in to take back all of the endorsement deals and accolades they won him in the first place.

Allegations of illegal drug use have haunted some of the greatest athletes of our time: Roger Clemens, Alex Rodriguez, Sammy Sosa, Lance Armstrong, Manny Pacquiao ...

But what if steroids suddenly were legal?

That's what Democrats say happened in politics this year when the Supreme Court overturned some campaign finance laws and ruled that corporations and individuals could anonymously donate unlimited sums to third-party groups. Those groups have spent more money this year than political parties, mostly on Republicans.

Now, just like in sports, the accusations are flying.

5. Split the Vote

Flash back to 2008. Florida's Tim Tebow receives 309 first place votes for the Heisman Trophy. Oklahoma's Sam Bradford receives 300 and Texas's Colt McCoy receives 266.

But Tim Tebow loses the Heisman to Sam Bradford. Why? Because of the intricacies of Heisman Trophy voting and the fact that second and third place votes must also be tallied up and taken into account.

Intricacies of voting and point breakdowns are not unique to sports. Two years after these minutiae stripped Florida's golden boy of his second consecutive Heisman Trophy, similar vote split specifics promise to play a prominent role in the state's senatorial race.

After a litigious televised debate in October between the three men running for a Senate seat in Florida, Republican Marco Rubio emerged as the clear frontrunner, attracting 50 percent of voters surveyed by Rasmussen Reports, because his opposition seemingly is split between Independent candidate Charlie Crist, with 25 percent, and Democratic candidate Kendrick Meek, with 19 percent.

Similarly, in the tight Nevada Senate race between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and his Tea Party opponent, Sharron Angle, Reid's best chance of getting re-elected may lie in the unique "none of the above" option on the Nevada ballot.

Specifically, if Reid's camp can manage to split his opposition enough between support for Sharron Angle and support for none of the candidates listed on the ballot, then Reid just might escape the anti-incumbency trend unscathed.