Every four years, campaign reporters dust off the old metaphor kit. Some phrases reappear—the “horse race,” the “coronation,” the “salvos” and “barbs” and “verbal hand grenades” being “fired” and “traded” and “lobbed.” Other riffs are specific to a particular election, like this year’s endless Rocky analogies or the analysis of Clinton’s ” Tonya Harding option .”
But the best campaign metaphors are often provided in real time by life itself. Here’s a rundown of the season’s best.
7. Mike Huckabee’s emergency landing. On Feb. 7, Mike Huckabee’s press plane made an emergency landing so harrowing that one reporter thought the aircraft might flip upside down. Once they were on the ground, a co-pilot left “visibly shaken.” A week later, Huck’s van ran out of gas. Twice . A month later, so did his campaign .
6. Obama’s waffle. At a Scranton, Pa., diner, Barack Obama bristled at a reporter’s question about Jimmy Carter’s meeting with Hamas: “Why can’t I just eat my waffle?” The response quickly became shorthand for Obama’s occasional bouts of prickliness. When reporters ribbed him about it later, he was unamused .
5. John Edwards’ breakdown. The last thing a stalling campaign needs is for its bus actually to stall out—especially in the middle of a 36-hour, cross-state “Marathon for the Middle Class” bus tour. But that’s exactly what happened to John Edwards the day before the Iowa caucus. His staff pleaded with reporters not to write up the low-hanging metaphor. They couldn’t resist .
4. Clinton’s inferno. In mid-April, just when Clinton was stoking the embers for a big comeback in Pennsylvania, her office in Terre Haute, Ind., burned to the ground . Investigators ruled out arson . A month later, she just barely eked out a victory in the must-win Hoosier State. But by then her campaign was all but engulfed.
3. Obama’s 37. When Obama first bowled a 37 at the Pleasant Valley Recreation Center in Altoona, Pa., he laughed it off : “I was terrible.” But soon the score became a symbol of his aloofness from hard-working Americans. MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough called the senator’s performance “dainty.” Never mind that he hadn’t bowled all the frames himself. Suddenly he was the latte-sipping, arugula-munching, flag-pin-shunning elitist who rolls gutter balls. Clinton rubbed it in by challenging Obama to a “bowl-off” on April Fools’ Day.
2. Clinton headquarters reduced to rubble. Back in February, the Clinton camp moved its home base from a fancy K Street pad in Washington, D.C., to a medicine cabinet of a building in Arlington, Va. The original digs were slated for demolition to make room for new condos. Hard to get more symbolic than wrecking balls.
1. Eight Belles’ last race. Two days before the Kentucky Derby, Clinton urged supporters to put their money on Eight Belles, the only filly competing. But on the day of the race, the girl horse placed second behind an inexperienced yet favored young colt named, of all things, Big Brown. Eight Belles crossed the finish line , but only after breaking both front ankles. She had to be euthanized on the track. Critics blamed the rough terrain . Big Brown went on to win the Preakness but inexplicably faltered in the final contest, the Belmont Stakes. Trainers are still scratching their heads. Instead, the winner was a horse named Da’ Tara —although, let’s be honest, it might as well be called Grizzled Old Veteran.