Although it is a year away, the 2012 Republican Primary contest is already on the minds of those who follow politics, and perhaps more so by those who follow politics for the sheer intellectual challenge than those who are concerned about the actual results. The term "horse race" is sometimes applied to political races, but unlike a horse race, the players are allowed to interact with each other, and the rules change all the time.

I recently learned that there would be one big change in the Republican Primary this year: after the traditional early primaries (Iowa,New Hampshire,Nevada and South Carolina, which there will be more about below), the Republican Party will then hold all the states with its non-winner-takes-all Primaries, followed by its winner-takes-all primaries. There is some speculation that the style of the Republican Party primaries in 2008 hampered the party's chances, both because it prematurely selected the most viable candidate, and because it took the spotlight away. (The further issue of whether the Republican primary system is somehow entwined with the Republican philosophy, is left as an exercise for the reader.)

This new system, in which the states that will divvy up delegates go before the states that don't, quickly brings to mind another such contest that I have been quite fond of lately: Mario Kart, the Super Nintendo version. In this game, out of the field of 8 racers, the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th place finishers get 9,6,3, and 1 points points, respectively. Over the course of five races, whoever gets the highest amount of points overall wins. It would be possible (but not probable), to get 3rd place five times, and be the winner, if you can strategically interfere with your competitors.

Nintendo has, over its history of game making, been very successful because it can distill the essence of a game and present it with an easy learning curve. Although Mario Kart is cartoonish and fun, it also distills, quite well, the essence of racing. There are four categories of racer in Mario Kart, pretty much summing up the real physics of maneuvering a motor vehicle.

  • The Medium racer, represented by Mario, is average in acceleration, cornering and top speed.
  • The Accelerator, represented by Princess Peach, can accelerate well, but is lower in top speed and maneuverability.
  • The heavy weight, represented by Donkey Kong, starts off slow, but can get very fast on a simple track. Just don't ask them to turn.
  • The light weight, represented by Koopa Troopa, is slow, easy to push around...but is surprisingly good to play due to their ease at cornering.

In case the reason for describing this in some detail is obscure, the four styles of racer are actually fairly close to the types of candidates we will see in a primary. Much like Mario Kart, there will be a field of about eight, but half of those will be vanity candidates or single issue candidates. There is usually only four (or so, please suspend your disbelief at my stretching of this analogy) candidates who have a competitive chance. And, without too much imagination, we can imagine them having the styles (and perhaps the personalities and mannerisms) of our Mario Kartsters.

Each one of these candidates has strengths and weaknesses, and each one will be counting out their total points as they compete for delegates. Although I don't know whether the first four contests will be divvying up their delegates in a Mario Kart like fashion, we can take them as fairly representative of the courses that our candidates/Kartsters must navigate. Iowa and New Hampshire, for example, are generic courses, depending on a normal mixture of speed and maneuvering. Nevada, being a somewhat unusual state demographically and politically, is like one of Mario Kart's obstacle courses, where hairpin turns and pools of mud await the candidate who must figure out a way to impress economically depressed suburban voters in Las Vegas, as well as diehard conservative rural voters. And South Carolina is a straight test of power, where the candidate whose engine revves with conservative ideology will easily win.

One thing about the race that will make it even more like Mario Kart than Mario Kart itself is; is the fact that the candidates are allowed to interfere with each other. Unfortunately, in Mario Kart, the racers come in the same order almost every time, for the very reason that the game is not designed so you can place 3rd or 4th consistently and end up winning overall. However, in the great political Kartrace, there is no invisible hand of AI. The candidates most likely will team up on the front runner, leading to many possible combinations. Just like in Mario Kart, one of the competitors who is "supposed" to be in 5th or 6th place might make a strategically timed attack on their opponent, and the race will be upset. A fifth place contestant might take a magic mushroom/nitrous oxide (although, of course, not literally) at the last moment to zoom across the finish line. The possibilities are endless.

Right now, those who have played the game are probably chuckling to themselves at my comparison. Those who have not are probably wondering what the hell I am talking about. But both groups will be amazed at my prescience in 15 short months, when the well-oiled machineries of the Republican candidates are trying their best to stop from careening off the edge of the Rainbow Road.

NB: The Blue Shell is certainly applicable, but doesn't exist in the version of the game I am familiar with.
NB: And what you are thinking right now...that is ANOTHER reason why I didn't mention the Blue Shell.

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