John Kerry's campaign insists the Democrat will keep cheering his hometown Boston Red Sox to World Series victory, curse or no curse.
The curse of the Bambino?
No, not THAT curse. Kerry is defying a folk legend -- sometimes incorrect -- that a World Series victory by an American League baseball team like the Red Sox forecasts GOP triumph on Election Day.
"It's a new century, and John Kerry believes it's a fresh start," says Michael Meehan, a Kerry-Edwards campaign spokesman. "The Red Sox will win the World Series, and he'll win the White House."
Wrong, according to Halloween masks, soda cups, bobblehead dolls, cookies, hair and economic models. So far, all suggest Kerry is doomed to fall to President Bush.
Still, Kerry has a pumpkin poll and stock results on his side. And, despite the broader World Series trend, the Red Sox and Democrat Woodrow Wilson both prevailed the last times the Red Sox made the World Series in presidential election years -- way back in 1912 and 1916.
But just as Kerry will root for the Sox no matter what, Republicans don't fear the curse of Wilson. After all, most serious pollsters and political thinkers simply don't believe in the predictive power of sports and gourds.
"All these things are silly," says Tom Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. "It turns out you can find any number of bizarre events that tend to coincide with victorious candidates. It's all a fun little effort -- and all absolutely irrelevant to the election."
The campaigns mostly agree.
"They're fun and they're interesting to look over, and certainly provide a break sometimes from scientific polls," says Brian Jones, a Bush-Cheney spokesman. "But ultimately, it's not pumpkins, bobblehead dolls and the state of professional sports teams that will decide the election."
However, with most serious polls still showing a race too close to call, even the campaigns are leaving wiggle room for the folk legends.
"The only poll that matters is the one on Election Day," jokes Meehan, the Kerry-Edwards spokesman, "and, of course, the winner of the Packers-Redskins game."
The Oct. 31 matchup is the Washington Redskins' last home game before the election, and since the team has existed its last home game has perfectly predicted the outcome of the presidential election. Sixteen times, a win by the Redskins has preceded a win by the incumbent party and a loss has forecast a win by the challenger.
"The Redskins rule has proven to be a more reliable leading indicator of who's going to be elected president than the popular vote," says Steve Hirdt, executive vice president of the Elias Sports Bureau, who discovered the pattern before a 2000 Monday Night Football matchup between the Redskins and the Tennessee Titans.
Democrat Al Gore tempted fate that year by successfully rooting for his home state team, the Titans. He ultimately lost the state of Tennessee and the entire election -- something Hirdt foresaw even before Florida's vote was resolved.
"Through all the indecision, litigation and disputes of the subsequent five weeks, my belief was that this question had been asked and answered," Hirdt said. "The Redskins lost, and therefore the Democrats lost."
Never again, the Democrats seem to say.
"We're pulling very hard for the Packers on the week before the election," Meehan says, though he added Kerry's favorite team remains the New England Patriots.
Republicans are unperturbed by Kerry's strategic backing of the Packers and the Red Sox.
"Considering John Kerry said his favorite Red Sox [player] of all time was Eddie Yost, who never played for the Red Sox, said [Packers' stadium] Lambeau Field was Lambert Field, and said how much he loves Ohio State football in Michigan, we have no problems with John Kerry making sports statements or predictions," Jones says.
Kerry has the advantage of rooting for the team from Wisconsin -- a potential swing state -- where he also is backed by some local data: According to an online listing through this morning, Kerry led a vote between pumpkins depicting the candidates' faces by a 59 percent to 41 percent margin, though the vote runs through the end of the month.
"If pumpkins and Packers are the keys to the White House, we're for both of them," Meehan says.
In 2000, Bush won similar pumpkin votes online and at Altenburg's Country Gardens in Grand Rapids, Wis. But Republicans refuse to be spooked by the jack-o-lantern factor this time.
"I don't want to cast any doubt on the scientific validity of the Wisconsin pumpkin poll, but the fact that the president won the pumpkin poll in 2000 but didn't carry Wisconsin bodes well for the president this year," Jones says.
There are scary signs for Kerry, too, including a deficit in the Halloween mask tally, which allegedly has predicted the presidency in every election since 1988. Through this morning, the Web site for buycostumes.com said Bush masks were outselling Kerry masks 55 percent to 45 percent.
In fact, aside from pumpkins, funny-face indicators have been looking good for Bush since early August. Back then, baseball fans at various minor league ballgames chose the Bush bobblehead doll over the Kerry version, 53 percent to 47 percent, in four of the seven states surveyed -- Florida, South Carolina, New York and South Dakota. Majorities in Minnesota, Massachusetts and Connecticut ballparks picked Kerry.
Why do people prefer Bush's face? Maybe it's the hair that frames it. Bush wins there, too, according to a survey by the Wahl Clipper Corp. Although Kerry once boasted of the Democratic ticket, "We've got better hair" -- and reporters sometimes jokingly refer to his campaign plane as "Hair Force One" -- 51 percent surveyed thought Bush had better hair, compared to 30 percent for Kerry.
"Every elected president since the beginning of the television era, which is since 1952, has been the one with the better head of hair," says Dr. Gary Hitzig, a New York hair restoration surgeon. "If Kerry didn't have hair … it would be the Edwards-Kerry ticket."
Hitzig initially couldn't pick between Bush and Kerry, but now picks Bush "by a hair," because he has the can-do hairdo for terror fighting.
"Bush's hair is more rugged," he says. "I think America needs rugged. They want somebody with a stronger appearance."
Kerry is several inches taller than Bush, which some think offers a similar advantage. But height did not work for Al Gore in 2000. Perhaps sometimes that's just how the cookie crumbles.
This year's cookie seems to crumble for Bush. Two-thirds of Family Circle magazine readers voted for Laura Bush's oatmeal-chocolate chunk cookies over Teresa Heinz Kerry's pumpkin spice cookies. The three prior winners saw their husbands win the White House, but this time Kerry may have an out.
"Somebody at my office gave that recipe out and, in fact, I think somebody really made it on purpose to give a nasty recipe," Heinz Kerry told National Public Radio. "I never made pumpkin cookies. I don't like pumpkin spice cookies."
Similarly garbled are this year's hemline, lipstick and eyebrow indexes -- which once were thought to predict economic conditions, but got applied to politics.
According to Arthur Zaczkiewicz, senior editor at "Women's Wear Daily": "In leaner years, you'll see thinner eyebrows and redder lipstick, where in more flush economic times you see kind of Brooke Shields uberbrows and more softer lip colorings."
Rising hemlines also are said to be linked to economic prosperity. Some have said they predict Democratic presidencies, but that rarely seems to work.
Even if it did, there's no use looking for presidential clues in fashion this year, because designers are presenting varied hemline, lipstick and eyebrow fashions, Zaczkiewicz says. Still, he adds, it might be worth looking at fashion anyway.
"What would you rather look at, poll results or hemlines?" he asks.
Fashion indicators may not hold water, but 7-Eleven cups do. And specially marked Bush cups have narrowly outpaced Kerry cups chosen by consumers at the national chain by a 51 percent to 49 percent margin, according to partial results posted online this morning.
Not all indicators are dismissed purely as superstition and chance. Some claim their metrics use hard data to measure mood or economic health, and suggest an election result.
Since 1988, the Iowa Electronic Markets' futures wagering lines have predicted presidential popular vote to within an average of 1.37 percentage points, says Tom Rietz, an associate professor of finance at the University of Iowa's Tippie College of Business, which runs the betting site. Proponents say it may gain accuracy because participants risk losing their money if they bet incorrectly.
"We think that we're more accurate than polls," Rietz says. "We ask people to predict what will happen in November, not how they're feeling today. We ask how they think everyone's going to vote, not how they're going to vote."
Odds fluctuate depending upon prices bettors are willing to pay through supply and demand. IEM and InTrade.com, a similar site, have been predicting a close race all summer, with Bush usually ahead. Earlier this morning, IEM and InTrade both predicted a Bush win by 57 percent-43 percent odds, and IEM predicted the two-candidate share of the popular vote would be 51 percent-49 percent in favor of Bush.
Various models run by economists also predict Bush will win. But the economists -- such as Ray C. Fair of Yale University, whose data through 2004's second fiscal quarter predict Bush will get 57 percent of the two-party popular vote -- don't always sound so sure these days.
"Even though you may have the past successfully quantified, you can never rule out in the social sciences that there isn't some huge change," Fair says. "There seem to be some things this time that loom rather large."
Historically, the average error for Fair's model is 2.4 percentage points. Its worst performance was in 1992, when it was off by 5.1 points and mistakenly predicted re-election for the first President Bush, perhaps because voters' perception of the economy was worse than his model's measurement of actual economic conditions. Fair worries a similar perception gap or a disproportionate emphasis on foreign policy could come into play this year.
At the end of October, Fair will issue a revised prediction incorporating third-quarter economic numbers, but expects similar results.
Stocks tell a different story, predicting Kerry will win, barring a rally before Election Day, according to Jeffrey A. Hirsch, editor-in-chief of the "Stock Trader's Almanac." He notes the Dow Jones Industrials average is down from its 10,260.20 level on Sept. 3, the day after the last political convention, and its 10,080.27 level at the start of October. Generally, losses after the political conventions and during October have been bad signs for incumbents since around 1900.
"I think it's … economic market forces being affected by the policies of the current administration," Hirsch says. "If the market doesn't perform well, people vote with their wallets, or their statements."