October Surprise

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

On the video monitors above the lanes, Britney Spears lip-synchs her latest hit, a cover of Bobby Brown's "My Prerogative." The young temptress wears nothing but lingerie as she writhes around on a bed of satin sheets. Sitting on the benches behind lanes three and four, Carnahan and Federer take off their shoes.

Lacing up his red, white and blue rentals, Federer takes an unequivocal stand on the issue: "Bowling is one of the few activities you can do anymore as a family."

Carnahan to bowling ball: "Please stay out of the 
Jennifer Silverberg
Carnahan to bowling ball: "Please stay out of the gutter."
When Bill sings "My Girl," you'd better believe he 
means Mrs. Federer.
Jennifer Silverberg
When Bill sings "My Girl," you'd better believe he means Mrs. Federer.

Carnahan may be leading Federer in the polls, but when it comes to a three-frame bowling showdown, the Republican and best-selling author of America's God and Country Encyclopedia of Quotations has the solid edge. After all, Federer took his entire clan bowling just a few months before. Talk about good political prep. Carnahan says he hasn't tossed the rock for a good three years.

On an adjoining lane, Nancy Farmer is having trouble getting adjusted. Abandoning modesty for comfort, Missouri's state treasurer trades in her size seven-and-a-half shoes for a pair of eights. It takes another five minutes for her and her aide to find the right ball. When at last she's settled, it's clear why she's so finicky: Farmer is a hell of a bowler.

She throws two spares in a row and follows up in the last frame by knocking down all but two pins. This from a woman who says she last bowled twenty years ago. After three frames she finishes with a very respectable 44 -- almost double what any of her male counterparts will throw.

On lane two, Farr tosses one gutter ball after another. Like his political leanings, his balls veer wildly to the right. After three frames, he finishes with a sorry thirteen.

The better match is shaping up between Federer and Carnahan. After one frame, the political adversaries are tied at nine points each. In frame number two, Carnahan knocks down five pins with his first ball, only to follow up with a gutter ball. Seizing on his opponent's weakness, Federer throws a two, and then a seven, to lead, eighteen to fourteen.

Carnahan needs a big roll in the final frame, and with a determined toss he knocks down nine pins. One more and he'll have a spare, and the chance to augment his score with a bonus ball. But it's not to be: He misses the solitary pin left standing. Federer must knock down six pins to win. His first throw clears five, and the second toss picks up the requisite obstacle.

"This is so fun," exclaims Sue, Federer's effervescent wife. "This is the most fun we've had on the campaign."

Final bowling score: Federer 24, Carnahan 23. After round one, it's Federer 1, Carnahan 0.

The candidates may prove their mettle on the bowling lanes -- but this race is about a lot more than bowling, the moderator gravely notes.

"Our city and state yearn for leaders," he says, "who will not give us the same song and dance. We need leaders who can make the whole world sing, leaders who can give voice to our hopes and dreams. In short, it's time for some karaoke."

"How'd you guys come up with this?" a bewildered Federer asks when handed a list of some 40 songs pre-selected for the competition. The selections run the gamut -- from Elvis to patriotic, from rock to country, from soul to a section titled "Songs Your Mother Wouldn't Let You Sing."

By now Farmer has participated in the forum for 45 minutes and senses this may be the only time to leave with her dignity intact.

"I can't carry a tune in a bucket," she admits to the crowd. Being a good sport, Farmer at least makes a selection: "Stand By Me." It plays softly in the background while she uses the stage to give one last pitch.

Next up is Leslie Farr, who in August lost his job as an Amtrak conductor when he got on the train's PA system and urged passengers to vote against Kerry -- because Kerry's campaign train held his train up for two hours. He approaches karaoke with the same irreverence he demonstrated on that fateful voyage across Missouri.

In a private moment earlier in the forum, Farr describes an ideal date as cuddling on the couch with his wife. Now he chooses the raunchiest tune in the lineup -- Clarence Carter's "Strokin'." Making the song his own, he interjects his name into the lyrics:

Now when I start making love to my woman
I don't stop until I know she's satisfied
And I can always tell when she gets satisfied
Cause when she gets satisfied she starts calling my name
She'd say: "Leslie Farr, Leslie Farr, Leslie Farr
Leslie Farr, ooooh shit, Leslie Farr!"

The song brings the house down, but not all audience members are impressed, including one of Federer's aides. "I must say, I found that a little appalling," she whispers.

As Farr's song goes on and on (apparently we erred in selecting the extended remix), Carnahan laments that Willie Nelson's "On the Road Again" is not on the list. He's also concerned about following Farr.

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