October Surprise

Now we know just how far candidates will go -- and just how much Pimp Juice they'll drink -- for an endorsement

Screw the 30-second sound bites. Damn those enslaving "talking points" meant to keep a candidate on message. We've had it up to here with these synthetic, cautiously scripted campaigns. If you want to read a good yarn on what our politicians have to say about privatizing Social Security or raising gas taxes to fund additional infrastructure, well, check out the Post-Dispatch.

Throughout this election season, our candidates have been measured by the campaign cognoscenti in all the dreary, traditional ways. But before you enter that ballot booth six days from now, wouldn't you like something better, something a little more up-close-and-personal -- you know, like who can carry a tune the best or chug Pimp Juice the fastest? Of course you would. And that's why we're bringing you the Riverfront Times' first-ever Candidate Forum.

The few, the proud, the brave: from top, Nancy 
Farmer, Bill Federer, Russ Carnahan and Leslie Farr
Jennifer Silverberg
The few, the proud, the brave: from top, Nancy Farmer, Bill Federer, Russ Carnahan and Leslie Farr
"Rock again! I'm on to you, Federer!"
Jennifer Silverberg
"Rock again! I'm on to you, Federer!"

It's late on a Tuesday morning, and in an hour or so the Cardinals will begin kicking some Dodger butt in Game One of the National League Division Series. Wearing a goofy grin and a Redbirds jersey fully tucked into his pleated khakis, Third District congressional candidate Russ Carnahan enters Pin-Up Bowl, our chosen venue for this groundbreaking event. His Republican foe, Bill Federer, is running late, and the other two candidates who've shown up on time -- U.S. Senate contender Nancy Farmer and First District congressional hopeful Leslie Farr -- are milling around like kids on their first day at a new elementary school.

They have no idea what's in store for them.

Baffled expressions abound, the kind of deer-in-the-headlights look that once creased the confused face of Ross Perot's 1992 running mate, Admiral James Stockdale, who, in the middle of the veep debate, asked the immortal questions: "Who am I? Why am I here?" Seems our political contingent on this fine fall day is having similar thoughts. They're probably thinking to themselves, "I could be getting more votes bird-dogging the early feeders at Denny's than I'll get here today."

The RFT invited about a dozen candidates to the forum, including George W. Bush and John Kerry (they had other engagements they felt were more important, if you can believe that). Invitations went out to Missouri's gubernatorial combatants, to the duo running for St. Louis County Executive and to Farmer's opponent, Christopher "Kit" Bond, a man who has never pulled in more than 53 percent of the vote in the his three bids for office.

Sensing that perhaps they might be in store for a little political mischief, most of our invitees respectfully declined this rare political opportunity. For each passing minute, awaiting Federer's arrival, those already in attendance wish they'd done likewise. We feel like telling them, as that fun-loving jock John Riggins once advised Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, "Loosen up, baby."

At last, Federer arrives. "I really like the Loop," he confides, gingerly casing the bowling alley. "I love that root beer at Fitz's."

The big show is set to begin. An RFT editor serves as moderator. He thanks everyone for coming and asks the candidates to deliver a brief opening statement. With the exception of Leslie Farr, who throughout his talk makes vague references to "things that go bump in the night," the speeches are all refried hash -- though Farmer does offer a spirited riff on Bond's increasingly fractious campaign. But mostly it's working-class tax relief, prescription-drug costs, education reform. Blah, blah and more blah.

When the speeches come to a merciful end, the moderator lays down the ground rules, which basically boil down to this: Have fun, show some spontaneity, and let the voters see a side of you they probably never have seen -- and never will see -- on the campaign trail.

If you're looking for our endorsements in the Senate and First District congressional races, don't worry: Our minds were immediately made up. And the coveted endorsements go to Farmer and Farr, just for mustering the political chutzpah to show up -- unlike their 'fraidy-cat opponents. For the Carnahan-Federer race, it'll be more difficult to choose, as the possibility of a tie exists.

"And for this," intones the moderator, "we have devised the ultimate tie-breaker -- a best-of-five game of 'Rock, Paper, Scissors.' Let the games begin."

Federer and Carnahan meet at the bar like two grizzled gunslingers. Out of the gate, Federer takes a commanding two-nothing lead when his rocks dull Carnahan's scissors.

By round four, though, it's unclear whether Federer understands the game. He's thrown four rocks in a row, and Carnahan is on to him, smothering each rock with a hand of paper. The game is tied at two. The fifth and final round, Federer goes back to rock. It's a strategy akin to Mike Matheny calling for Jason Isringhausen's high heater, even though the Cardinals closer's last two fastballs left the park. In this case, Carnahan is Mr. October. He reads Federer's face and throws paper. Carnahan wins, 3 to 2.

"Serving in Congress requires more than idle hand gestures," says the moderator, after congratulating Carnahan. "We need leaders who are powerful, people who can strike down the mightiest barriers of opposition -- or, at the very least, clean up a nasty seven-ten split. That's right, we need to send good bowlers back to Washington!"

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