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Robert L. Turner

The hidden winners and losers in the election

How will characters who aren’t on the ballot fare on Tuesday?

 Bill Clinton’s inspired convention speech was a tough act to follow.

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Bill Clinton’s inspired convention speech was a tough act to follow.

Once again there are people across the country whose names are on no ballot, but who will wake up Wednesday morning to find out they are among the election’s hidden winners and losers.

Some already know.

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Senator Scott Brown’s mates in the National Guard were surely hidden winners when Hurricane Sandy struck. No way Governor Patrick or Martin O’Malley, the Democrat governor of Maryland, where Brown has been transferred, was going to call Brown’s unit to active duty filling sandbags by the seashore while the cameras rolled. A Republican governor would have activated Brown, given him a helmet, commandeered the pickup and called in the press.

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Hillary Clinton left little for Romney to criticize.

Other hidden winners: the Clintons — both of them.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s steady competence over four years left Mitt Romney with few foreign policy openings, resulting in his me-too performance in Debate 3. And she threw herself gallantly on the live grenade that the Libyan massacre was becoming.

Meanwhile, former President Bill Clinton’s jocular brilliance at the Democratic Convention left many voters yearning for candidates who enjoy — or at least seem to enjoy — the give-and-take of politics. President Obama attempted to channel Clinton’s arithmetic lesson in Debate 1, but his pencil wasn’t as sharp.

And speaking of Debate 1, a hidden loser, one of the year’s most obvious, was Jim Lehrer of PBS, who moderated about as effectively as the NFL replacement officials.

Significant issues such as the environment, especially global warming, were losers, essentially ignored unless you tuned into the third-party candidates’ debate.

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Jim Lehrer’s moderating skills were panned.

Moderation also took a hit. When Richard Lugar, the leading Senate Republican on foreign policy issues, is rejected in favor of a man who believes rape victims should carry the criminals’ progeny to term, common sense is not moving forward.

The campaign has left future presidential aspirants in both parties with heightened hurdles. Democrats such as Andrew Cuomo may find it hard to get past Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden if both decide to run in 2016. And the prospect may be worse for Republicans such as Jeb Bush, Bobby Jindal, and Chris Christie; it’s not outlandish to posit that Romney could win and be succeeded after two terms by Paul Ryan. If so, there might be no open path for GOP candidates for 16 years — until 2028. Could any of them — Christie? — be hoping, secretly, for Obama to be reelected?

In Massachusetts and New Hampshire, female voice talents were hidden winners. They were everywhere on the airwaves, especially on both sides of the Massachusetts Senate race and the contest for governor between Maggie Hassan and Ovide Lamontagne in New Hampshire. Let’s hope the actors got royalties; with so many repetitions, they would all be rich.

Another Granite Stater, former governor John H. Sununu, retired the Commentator’s Cup of Crow Award for having to backtrack on a comment questioning Obama’s patriotism and another suggesting Colin Powell’s endorsement of Obama was race-based.

Of course there are many non-candidates with a real stake in the election who have to wait for the voters to tell them if they are winners or losers.

Among countless examples: If Obama is reelected, billionaire Warren Buffett will be a hidden winner; the Des Moines Register, which switched its endorsement to Romney, a hidden loser.

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Mayor Menino would benefit from an Elizabeth Warren win.

If Romney wins, tax-cutter Grover Norquist is a hidden winner; Big Bird is a loser.

Locally, Mayor Thomas Menino will be a hidden winner if a huge vote in Boston sends Elizabeth Warren on her way to the Senate. But if Brown wins, Democrats will be looking to see if Menino, who endorsed late, gave a full-throated effort. Signs that he did: a total Boston turnout of 200,000-plus, and a big showing for Warren in places where Menino’s organization is strongest, such as Precincts 10-14 in East Boston, Precincts 16-20 in Readville and Hyde Park, and most of the precincts in Ward 20, West Roxbury.

In the closing days of the campaign, Paul Ryan has leveled criticism against Obama for “picking winners and losers” in various economic sectors — a policy that he says a Romney administration would abjure. This means that, on Wednesday morning, picking winners and losers will itself be a winner or a loser.

Robert L. Turner is senior adviser to Commonwealth Compact at UMass Boston. He teaches at Northeastern’s Graduate School of Journalism.
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