Tuesday, November 08, 2016

On Being “In Play”

Happy Election Day, all.

I voted this morning. I would have tried voting early, but I was on the road -- to Malta, then to New Jersey -- for pretty much the entire time early voting was available for me.

I arrived at the nearby church that functions as my polling station right at 6:30 a.m. so as to avoid any long lines later today. The place was already packed, and in fact it was hard finding a place to park. But the whole process only took about a half-hour to get through, and now I’m back on the farm where I’ll be tuning in tonight with everyone else to see how it all goes.

North Carolina is a “battleground state” this year, with enough electoral votes to matter and genuine uncertainty over whether it’ll be tipping toward Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. I noticed yesterday Nate Silver had placed NC on a “Tier 1” line with Florida as a key indicator of how things are ultimately going to go.

Eight years ago the state barely chose Obama, while Romney won by a wider margin in the last election. The polls having been suggesting Hillary wins NC by a smidgen this time, but it’s truly up in the air at the moment. (Bill Clinton lost NC by small margins in both ’92 and ’96.)

It’s curious to be voting in a state that is “in play” like this, given how most elections that hasn’t really been the case. It reminds me a little of the Pigskin Pick’em game that has been increasingly distracting me every week since I’ve been out front in the sucker since Week 2.

Every week’s slate of NFL games contains many games that essentially aren’t significant since practically the entire pool picks the same way. Such was true, for instance, with last night’s Buffalo-Seattle game in which almost everyone took the Seahawks (and won, although it was a close one).

Meanwhile other games last weekend were most definitely “in play” -- e.g., Philadelphia-NY Giants, Carolina-Los Angeles, and Denver-Oakland, which in each case saw about half the pool go one way and half the other. Those outcomes therefore meant something, affecting the pool standings, while the unanimous (or near-unanimous) games did not.

Of course, what I’m describing is all a matter of perception. It’s like when we talk about a poker hand and after fourth street brings an apparent “blank” we cheerfully say “the turn changed nothing.”

But almost always the turn is not wholly insignificant (except in those relatively rare instances when a player is already drawing dead after the flop). It moves the game forward another betting round, having meaning even if it doesn’t change who is ahead in the hand.

So, too, do these games (or states) that aren’t “in play” still significant to the overall contest. (In fact, who’s to say, really, which states are and are not, until later tonight?)

In any event, regardless how the election turns out, things have certainly changed here in the U.S. and will continue to do so going forward. After the last year-and-a-half, it feels like practically everything is “in play” now.

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