Prospect of memorable political phrases in 2006 campaign has slangophiles salivating

Paul Dickson

Elections have always had a strong impact on American language. Campaign slogans like ''Tippecanoe and Tyler too'' (1840) and FDR's promise of a New Deal (1930) linger in the recesses of our memories. And you can be sure that there are equally memorable words now waiting to be immortalized as candidates go to the hustings, deliver stump speeches and work the rubber-chicken circuit to rally grass-roots support.

Then there are terms that actually relate to the mechanics of voting, which until now have had to do with voting booths, polling places, mechanical voting devices and paper ballots, including the now-anachronistic two-page, pamphlet-like butterfly ballot that figured so prominently in the 2000 presidential election.

In what has been termed the most radical change in voting equipment in history, more than 30 million Americans will be using new and unfamiliar electronic voting devices when they cast their ballots Tuesday -- likely causing a certain degree of confusion and controversy.

Odds are that before you can say lame duck there will be a whole new voting lexicon and it is a good bet that somewhere in this great land an electronic equivalent of hanging chad will emerge in the days ahead as the old chad clan -- swinging, pregnant, hanging and dimpled -- fades into oblivion.

In fact, some terms have already emerged. One is ''fleeing voter'' for someone who selects candidates in each race but fails to touch the screen to officially cast their ballot before leaving. And there seems to be a problem with some machines that produce a frozen screen that could put a chill in the election vocabulary.

In addition to the new mechanics, the blog factor is at play. With the meteoric rise of the blogosphere since the last major election in 2004, candidates in 2006 have to be good at BR -- blogger relations, a parallel form of PR, or public relations. Good BR consists of finding the political bloggers with the greatest impact and telling your story to them. Bad BR -- and PR -- came into play in August when Sen. George Allen, R-Va., called a campaign worker for his Democratic challenger Jim Webb a macaca, which turned out to be an obscure racial slur in parts of Europe or North Africa. The man, an American of Indian descent, had been photographing an Allen rally for Webb. Thanks to Allen's blunder, a search for macaca on the Internet now yields 3,760,000 Google hits.

All sorts of old school terms will come out of hibernation from this moment forward, in the run-up to the 2008 presidential election. We are in for a long primary season that will include its share of front runners, also-rans and dark horses who will compete in primaries that can be open or closed or winner take all.

Some are simply beauty contests -- non-binding primary elections that do nothing more than measure popularity. There will be bandwagons to jump on, coattails to attach to and war chests to dip into.

Candidates still will have their own handlers and spin-doctors to help in the battleground states -- a.k.a. purple, a mix of blue and red, as they exploit wedge issues, attempt to close gender gaps and bid for the support of swing voters.

Before it is all over the landscape will be populated with running mates, ticket splitters, super-delegates, undecideds as well as new voter stereotypes to displace the NASCAR Dads and Security Moms of the previous presidential election.

All of this underscores a larger point, that the two great American fonts of new slang are sports and politics. In an election year, politics obviously has the upper hand. Elections are, in short, a linguistic slam-dunk.







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