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Peeking into Will's world


George Will looks out at his audience Monday night before stepping onto the stage inside Colorado College's Cornerstone Arts Center, and he can't help but smile. He doesn't even mind starting his speech to the overflow crowd nearly 10 minutes early.

Will has come down from on high that would be Washington, D.C., of course to speak about the 2008 election, and the widely known columnist/analyst/pundit surely is ready to be challenged on at least some of his conservative ideology.

And why not? Liberal arts school, lots of "lefties" among faculty and students, and so much to talk about in this crazy presidential race.

Then Will, looking younger than his 67 years, sees that, instead, he'll be preaching largely to the choir. The students are few and far between; the average age of this gathering has to be around 60. Most listeners can relate to Will's many old baseball analogies, and they largely agree with his not-so-subtle sermonettes about politics and economics.

In fact, after this 90-minute presentation, you wonder if John McCain should have Will as an opening act on the campaign trail. Freed from the neutrality he often tries to display on ABC's This Week, Will pushes GOP talking points more smoothly than McCain ever could, poking Barack Obama along the way.

Yet Will also shows a weakness he's obviously insulated from reality, as a longtime Washington insider, and he doesn't sympathize with, or relate to, how tough it is for the typical family in middle America.

But let's not bog down in health care, Social Security or the economy. Most of us want to hear his outlook on Obama vs. McCain.

"I'm exhilarated at this election season," Will says at the start, "and I have no clue who will win."

First he looks back at the past two elections, including "the 36-day lawyers riot of 2000 in Florida," and he wonders how little old ladies in West Palm Beach couldn't cope with hanging chads "despite the fact they're perfectly capable of handling 20 bingo cards at once."

Then, a flood of numbers and analyses. Will sees the "interior West" as crucial: Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado, Utah, Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. He points out that all eight had Republican governors in the 1990s, but five have Democratic governors now. If Obama can carry enough of them, he wins.

Moving on, Will details how Republicans still count on the South, but Democrats have similar control in the North with Ohio again the pivotal uncertainty. One of Will's interesting nuggets: New England states have a total of 22 U.S. House seats, and 21 are now held by Democrats.

The "simple" math, Will says, is that if Obama can hold the states John Kerry won in 2004, and add victories in Iowa and Virginia, the nation will have its first African-American president.

"The long and short of it is, if the Democrats can't win this year, they ought to get out of politics," Will says, adding an extra zinger. "But, all that said, Obama is radically under-performing his party."

From there, Will shrewdly uses his knowledge and vocabulary to pick at Obama. Such as calling it a "staggering paradox" that the first black nominee is viewed as "upper-class and elitist" which Obama isn't. Such as suggesting "this is still a center-right country," with Obama too liberal. Such as praising GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin for "energizing the base" and noting that "white Christians have more votes than African-Americans and union members combined." Such as saying that "McCain-Palin doesn't look like a third Bush term," that Obama "doesn't have the experience," and that Palin would be "a great influence on Washington if John McCain lives."

Finally, Will says, "I could see Obama winning the popular vote because of huge majorities in states he wins, but McCain still gets 270 [electoral votes]."

From there, Will lectures at length about what's wrong with politics in general (neither side facing the crisis of entitlement programs), which isn't why we came. Finally he returns to Obama-McCain, saying, "No matter who wins, we'll survive with any of these guys."

But it's obvious which way George Will wants this election to go. Even if he won't come out and say so.

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