‘Running Up the Score’ is Done in Politics as Well as Sports

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Greg Markley

OPINION —

Many but not all Auburn and Alabama sports fans dislike “running up the score.” It occurs when a team plays to get added points although the contest’s outcome is clearly theirs. Chasing a higher score with overkill can result in injuries to players, including team stars. Many call it poor sportsmanship at sports events.

“Running up the score” is not alien to politics. Did you wonder why very popular candidates spend more than necessary on a campaign? Yes, they might be paranoid, thinking that somehow their opponent will beat predictions and win. But the main reason politicians over-campaign and overspend is to discourage future opponents. They want the image of strong candidates in a run for higher office. “They want more runs in baseball itself,” said Herbert Hoover, U.S. president (1929-1933). “When you were raised on a sandlot, where the scores ran 23 to 61, you yearn for something more than a five-to-two score. The excitement, temperature and decibels of any big game today rises instantly with someone on base. It reaches ecstasy when somebody makes a run.”

In 1998, Texas Gov. George W. Bush was challenged by Garry Mauro, commissioner of the Texas General Land Office. But despite a more than likely win over the Democrat, Bush worked very hard and raised excessive campaign funds. He won with a huge 69% and became the leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000.

“Don’t take any of this freedom for granted,” said Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, running for a second term in 2022. “We need to win across the board in November, to solidify this state as the nation’s citadel of freedom. …We are going to be running across this state to raise the biggest Republican turnout this state has ever seen in a governor’s race.”

DeSantis leads former Gov. Charlie Crist, now a Democrat, in two recent Florida polls. He has his eyes and his rhetoric on the immediate situation, where he is likely to win in Florida, perhaps by 10 to 12%.

A poll out on Aug. 26 by YouGov showed that President Joe Biden would edge former President Donald Trump, 39% to 36%, if the two battled in the 2024 presidential election. But running against DeSantis, Biden may still win, but only by 1% (36 to 35%.) That result is the second focus of DeSantis’s eyes and rhetoric.

“There has been an absolute explosion when it comes to jobs with jobs growth with companies moving here,” said Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. “They can thrive and they can succeed better here than in the states they came from.”

Abbott became governor in 2015, and he is pursuing a third term.

He is campaigning against Democratic nominee Beto O’Rourke, a former congressman. In 2018, O’Rourke came within 2.6 points of defeating U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. He briefly ran for president in 2020. Abbott lost significant support due to environmental and gun-control issues, and the Dobbs abortion decision. Now he leads by 46 to 39%. That is his largest margin in months; 7% over O’Rourke.

The Conservative Political Action Conference gave attendees a list of 19 candidates. Trump had 69%, then DeSantis with 24%, followed by Cruz with 2%. Abbott joined five others at 0%. If he wins reelection with more than 10%, Abbott might still run for the White House.              

In my book, the reverse of “running up the score” would be a surprise election scare. Even though a candidate feels he or she is in a so-called “safe seat,” they still act as if they will lose. They put a lot of time and money in all their elections. And sometimes they do lose, despite the odds being in their favor the night before ballots are cast.

It might be true sometimes that Auburn and Alabama teams “run up the score” because they have high regard for their team and want to maximize the skill and talent on it. Politicians likewise have high self-regard; perhaps even egotism. Office seekers believe adding on points or election totals is OK for them. But they complain when others do it.

After JFK’s very close 1960 election win over Richard Nixon, he told people that earlier his wealthy father Joseph had asked him how many votes would be needed to become president. “I will not pay for a landslide, son,” the patriarch said. No over-spending as a “run up the score” in JFK’s Daddy’s long view.

Greg Markley moved to Lee County in 1996. He has master’s degrees in education and history. He taught politics as an adjunct in Georgia and Alabama. An award-winning writer in the Army and civilian life, he has contributed to the Observer since 2011. He is a member of the national Education Writers Association (focus-Higher Education). gm.markley@charter.net.

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