Now that the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness are over, we have to handicap the Belmont Stakes, which is, at a mile and a half, the longest of the three races. Charismatic, who won the first two races and has a chance at the legendary Triple Crown, will probably be established as the favorite if experts think he can go the distance. Horse lovers around the world will wish him well and watch with interest to see if he gains equine immortality and lasting fame. All the suspense will be over in three weeks, and most of us can take that much hoopla. There isn't too much politics in it: running fast, winning races and setting track standards is the name of the game in thoroughbred horse racing.

But what of the forthcoming presidential race! Not to disparage anyone, but there seems to be no real class in the field with the exception of a pair of longshots, Bill Bradley and John McCain. The first two races of the circuit, Iowa's and New Hampshire's caucuses, won't be held until next spring, and nine or ten contenders are now paying their entry fees. Through the New Hampshire snow, Al Gore will walk quietly to the starting gate, as will Bill Bradley, Steve Forbes, Dan Quayle, Gary Bauer, George W. Bush, Lamar Alexander, John McCain, Pat Buchanan, and one filly, Elizabeth Dole. There are even some aspects of presidential contests that resemble horse racing. They are similar in the fact a lot of money is riding on each nag, and the plug who will win over the distance is hard to determine. Just like their track counterparts, political touts find America's presidential races hard to handicap.

But there are also major differences between the Sport of Kings and the making of Kings. It goes without saying that three year-old Triple Crown winners invariably have all their molars, while presidential contenders are often long in the tooth. Much more pertinent, though, is the fact that prime handicapping rules for presidential races are at odds with those of horse racing. The fastest and smartest horse doesn't always win to parade through the Oval Office. Through a quirk of human nature, particularly ironic this year, charisma, the noun form of the recent Kentucky Derby winner's name, is often responsible for getting the winner to the finish line ahead of the pack. Though they are both fleet and light on their feet, neither Al Gore nor George W. Bush seems to have much charisma, and that's the reason the field may still be wide-open. Persons perceived as being charismatic can always enter the race, and I don't believe every horse has yet reached the track.

My pick for a late entry to steal the race is a Jesse-Jesse Reform Party ticket. You can choose which Jesse runs for president and which for vice-president, but I suppose governor Jesse Ventura would head the slate and Reverend Jesse Jackson would run as his Veep. The two-term limitation would assure Reverend Jackson of getting his chance as the first black president eight years later. Truly, they'd have a lot going for them, with millions of wrestling fans directed by Hulk Hogan, more than 90% of the black vote, military veterans, church-goers of all denominations, and the man-in-the-street who appreciates and listens to candor and common sense, enthusiastically joining hands in the voting booth to elect Jesse-Jesse. Together, they span the political spectrum from predator to preacher, which ought to cover about everybody. There is charisma to spare.

Jesse Ventura, former navy SEAL, pro-wrestler, movie actor, and radio talk show host, was elected governor of Minnesota last November. He won as an underdog over Republican and Democratic candidates in a three-way election. Not to be outdone, Reverend Jesse Jackson, with similar earlier triumphs under his belt, just succeeded in building a diplomatic bridge to Serbia. In an unendorsed visit to the Balkans, he was able to convince Slobodan Milosevic it made good sense to release the three American prisoners of war held by Serbia. To use the conventional vernacular, they are both hot, and they can fire people up. Al Gore and George W. Bush, the two early favorites, have been accused of being boring. Jesse-Jesse each qualifies in his own unique way as Mr. Excitement.

Frankly, it would seem nice to me to have a president in office who didn't feel he had to continually demonstrate his own masculinity, or make up for the lack of it, by bombing the citizens of some poor nation into oblivion to prove a point or send a message. Nor would he be likely to punish a leader like Saddam Hussein who continues to live high off the hog as Iraqi children die by the hundreds of thousands from lack of proper nutrition and medical care. Nope, president Jesse certainly inhaled, had sexual relations with more than one woman, didn't dodge the draft by going to graduate school or enlisting for six months in a stateside reserve unit, opt out by claiming to have bad knees, or by getting married early and having children. He just flew over to Vietnam as a navy SEAL, went out on combat missions, did what he was told, sampled the local food and women, learned the customs, and supported the town bars. What's more, I'll bet there are lots of American men, and a number of women, too, willing to overlook Jesse's juvenile conduct when he was a juvenile. And I bet they'll vote for him because he knows the score, has pulled himself up from a working class background, and because of his willingness to risk his own hide supporting his SEAL buddies. This president won't have to talk in public about compassion to underscore his sensitivity and dedication to gender equality, as he secretly gropes women in the recesses of the Oval Office and lies about it later. That alone, would be enough for me to pull the lever in the voting booth. I find such honesty very refreshing, and all-too unusual.

Presidential races are strange, costly, and exhausting events. Along with the extravagant entry fee, reputed to be somewhere around twenty million dollars, the thing that makes it so tough is the awareness that in every election derby, holders of place and show tickets walk away with nothing. Winner takes all. But Jesse-Jesse just might make a run along the rail from way back to show that a white man and a black man who have lived among the common people, who didn't go to Oxford as Rhodes scholars like Bill Clinton and Bill Bradley have, can still possess the collective wisdom to run our nation better than the hypocritical know-it-alls who presently infest Washington.

And to ease things in the stretch, Carly Simon has already written and sung their campaign song, Jesse!


Sam Orr
World Traveler
and Philanthrope
(Location Unknown)