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Why Wednesday’s GOP presidential debates will matter

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With the Ohio State Buckeyes rolling to 2-0 record and the Irish managing a tight win to reach the same start, I can begin prep for Wednesday night’s two GOP primary debates in earnest. (Of course time must be taken to watch the Cleveland Browns begin their march to the playoffs when they face the Jets Sunday.)

I mention NCAA and NFL football at the start of a column on the debates and the presidential race because the connection between the two is very real. It has to do with audience.

This is a football-mad country, and thank the stars it is. There are bridges across the partisan divide, and they are often painted in team colors.

The arrival of tailgating and of fall temps will also drop the temps of the campaign rhetoric, which, truth be told, hit boiling far earlier than any campaign I’ve ever reported on or participated in, and that goes back to 1976 and my early college days stumping for Ford/Dole.

So we started hot and will stay that way at least through Wednesday night and its aftermath and the Sunday show cycle that follows, parsing who went up and who declined. After that begins the far less visible ground game for politics and the conference schedule for the college clubs as well as the baseball playoffs.

Competition sets in for the Trump Show, and it won’t come from Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Scott Walker. It will come from SportsCenter.

That’s good news actually, as too much politics can cause a country to overdose. Better some interval training in August and September followed by the marathon that begins in earnest after the Christmas revels.

Which is why Wednesday night may matter so much. It may well be the last time that many voters genuinely check in for the next three months, the months of collective fun in our country’s annual rhythm.

Hint to candidates: A word against the Steelers goes a long way with one of the panelists.



This column was originally posted on


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