erik lundegaard


Friday March 08, 2024

Who's the Kirk? Handicapping Presidential Races

Earlier this year I received a text from a woman running for office in a Democratic primary somewhere. Apologies I’m not more specific, but I quickly deleted it, or STOPped it, or STOP TO QUITted it, so I never got all the details. All I knew was she was running “against the odds,” she said, but she’s running anyway, damnit.

And that’s what made me lose interest.

I flashed back to February 2020 when I met my friends A. and B. for drinks in Seattle. All three of us are white, liberal, 50+, politically engaged and/or (in my case) vaguely aware; we’re all journalists or journalist-adjacent; and the conversation inevitably turned to the Washington state primary for the upcoming presidential election—one of the most consequential elections in our history. 

A. and B. are more politically engaged than I. Put it this way: They actually watched the primary debates to figure out which candidate aligned best with their vision of where the country should be heading. At the restaurant, they wrangled this out: Well, this candidate says this, and the other says the other, and that’s why I support the other. Washington is a mail-in ballot state, with ballots due in early March, and neither had filled out theirs yet, but I think one leaned Elizabeth Warren and the other Bernie.

And at some point they asked me who I planned to vote for.

“I already voted,” I said.



Long pause.

“Well, you just threw your vote away.”

“Yeah, he’s already out of it.”

This was before the South Carolina primary on February 29, when Black voters saved Biden’s campaign, and (you could argue), the United States of America—let alone March 3, Super Tuesday, when ditto. I think it was before Nevada, too. Which means we’d had two contests, Iowa and New Hampshire, and in both Bernie had come out on top, with Pete Buttigieg a close second, and either Warren or Amy Klobuchar a close third. Biden had finished a distant fourth in Iowa and a distant fifth in New Hampshire. He was done. I’d thrown away my vote.

I should add: I didn’t necessarily think they were wrong. But among the Democrats running, I knew Biden was the best bet to beat Trump. Everything else was just blather. 

Who … can … win?

That’s the question Democrats don’t ask themselves nearly enough. Here’s another question Dems should be asking themselves: Who’s the Kirk?

OK, I’m going to go even further back now, to around 2000, when I used to go to the post office fairly regularly. There, I often had conversations with one of the employees, a super smart, super friendly guy, about movies and politics. Maybe this was around the 2000 election, I don’t remember. All I remember is what he said: If you want to figure out who’s going to win a presidential election, ask yourself this: Who’s the Kirk and who’s the Spock? Because Kirk wins.

My immediate reaction was “Naw, it’s not that simple.” But then, I began to backtrack.

  • 2000: Al Gore vs. George W. Bush. Gore is the epitome of Spock. Bush wins.
  • 1996: Bill Clinton vs. Bob Dole. Clinton is clearly Kirk-esque. Clinton wins.
  • 1992: Bill Clinton vs. George H.W. Bush. Clinton: Kirk. Clinton wins.
  • 1988: Michael Dukakis vs. George H.W.  Bush. Did I say Al Gore was the epitome of Spock? Apologies. I forgot about Dukakis. Bush wins.

“Damn,” I said.

And since then? John Kerry was another classic Spock in 2004—and lost. Obama muddled the metaphor a bit, since he tends Spock with some Kirk swagger. I mean, Mitt Romney was definitely no Kirk but you could argue John McCain was, so 2008 was the only time the post-office guy’s handicap didn’t work. Otherwise he’s been dead on. 

Admittedly, some years, it’s tough to parse the Kirk-Spock divide—2020, for example, seemed more good Capt. Kirk vs. Evil “Enemy Within” Kirk—so for the past 10 years I tend to take a step back, squint, and ask: OK, if these two candidates were running for high school student body president, who would win? Most Americans take it as seriously as that. And that’s why I was so worried in 2016. In one corner, you had the girl with a perfect attendance record, who showed up every day to every class, got straight A’s, and maybe even reminded the teacher when they forgot to assign homework. And in the other? The rich guy who threw keggers at his house.

I’m still worried about 2024, but at least Biden seems the right candidate for the Dems. He’s Kirk with a touch of McCoy. The other guy, “Enemy Within” Kirk, is crazier than ever. He’s ready to take the Enterprise down with him as he rants away into the viewscreen.

And my friends A. and B.? The latter is in California now, and I’m not sure which way he’s leaning. But A. is still in Seattle and hasn’t changed much. On Instagram he recently posted a selfie of himself mailing in his ballot. “Uncommitted,” he wrote. Another winning choice. Boldly going where Democrats have always gone before.

Posted at 08:47 AM on Friday March 08, 2024 in category Politics