Crikey has covered some of the debate on McCain’s counter-intuitive focus on Pennsylvania. However, I can think of one explanation that hasn’t been raised here (or anywhere else I’ve seen). It may be that he’s betting on baseball to get him over the line.

Since touching down in LA yesterday I’ve been bombarded with news about the election, although advertising here seems to be restricted to the propositions on the California ballot to ban gay marriage and have independent setting of electoral boundaries — both sides agree California is not in Presidential play.

Aside from the election there seem to be only two national news stories: the financial crisis and the World Series, in which the Philadelphia Phillies went one up last night. Which makes me wonder whether McCain isn’t hoping the Phillies will get up and sweep him into the presidency on a tide of celebratory cheer.

There have been various studies over the years suggesting that home town sports wins can boost the economy and the popularity of incumbent politicians. Most famously, England’s 1966 World Cup win is credited with British Labour’s early run to the polls and comfortable victory.

If Philadelphia win the mood in Pennsylvania should be a lot more upbeat in the last few days before the election, and hostility to Republicans may decline enough to allow other factors, notably the much discussed Bradley effect, to get McCain over the line.

Sounds crazy? It probably is, but as Guy Rundle has so beautifully articulated, the whole McCain campaign has become a mad gamble on almost anything, so why not this?

Of course a Phillies win would make the mood pretty grim in Tampa, particularly since the Rays were favourite until the first game. However, McCain is close enough in Florida that Bradley and 2000-style efforts to stop blacks getting to the polls might see him home even if the ball game sours the mood further.

I suspect the influence of sports on the outside world is overstated through wishful thinking. Sports fans want their obsession to matter, so some exaggerate the evidence that it does. But small effect doesn’t equal no effect, and maybe McCain’s people think there is enough going on there to make Pennsylvania a better bet than Colorado, where the gap between the candidates is half as large.

With Obama fast running out of ways to lose the election, even the long shots start to look like big worries, so I’ve suddenly discovered a new interest in baseball. It’s just possible that Tampa Bay’s relief pitcher, Aussie Grant Balfour, has a bit more riding on his shoulders than even he may realise.

Peter Fray

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