J. T. For F. T.

OK, tonight the actual election for the next president of the United States begins. And though I technically don’t HAVE to make a commitment until next Tuesday, when we in New Hampshire hold our primary, I’m going to go out on a limb just hours before the Iowa Caucuses and announce who I’m supporting for president — and, more importantly, why.

According to my heart, I should cast my vote for Mitt Romney. He is the candidate whose positions most closely resemble my own. While he is trying to cast himself as a conservative (much like I tend to be cast as such), he’s far more muddled, middle-of-the-road, and pragmatic than that. I don’t see him as having an overarching ideology, but rather a set of core principles that he weighs each issue upon and decides each on their own merits. He also has a central competency, a gift for management, that tends to get things accomplished no matter the level of opposition. He will take whatever situation he is given and work with it to achieve his goals, often in a way that either sweeps his opposition along with him or by presenting such strength that they dare not openly cross him. I saw it several times in Massachusetts, when the legislature was overwhelmingly against him — some of his greatest accomplishments were in the latter half of his single term, after the Democrats had taken enough seats in the House and Senate to override his vetoes on any strictly partisan vote. Romney would probably be the best equipped to deal with a Congress run by Democrats.

According to my head, I should cast my vote for Rudy Giuliani. Mr. Mayor has already shown that he can govern a city larger than most states, and practically single-handedly slew the myth that New York City was an invincible, eternal Democratic stronghold. He has repeatedly demonstrated his personal strength and courage, taking on the Mafia as a prosecutor, governing a city most considered unmanageable, taking charge after 9/11, and beating cancer. He’s also no idealogue, with a healthy dose of political moderation that appeals to the centrist in me. And he’s the most prominent candidate on a national basis, meaning that he’s probably best equipped to win a national campaign.

But I’m going to set aside my head and heart and listen to my humerus. My strong left arm (I’m predominantly left-handed) — in particular my funnybone — says there’s another candidate out there more deserving of my support. A candidate who speaks plainly, and says what he believes in simple, unvarnished truth. And one who shows that he’s not afraid to laugh at situations that bear laughing — especially his detractors and himself.

I’ve often said that one of the most important aspects of being a successful president is a healthy sense of humor. A sense of humor makes a candidate more likable, more human, and more likely to win the support and affection of the American people.

It’s expressed many ways — “which candidate would you most like to have a beer with?” is one frequent test. However it’s said, though, it boils down to the same thing — which is the more sociable man (or, some day, woman). Which would you rather spend some “down time” with.

It’s been that way for as long as I can remember, and for decades before I was born. In each and every election, the candidate who was more likable won. John Kerry is a phony and a boor. Al Gore is a stiff. Bob Dole let himself be cast as the cranky old man. George H. W. Bush was no match for Bill Clinton’s easy charm. On the other hand, Bush was the easy choice over droning wonk Mike Dukakis. Reagan was… well, Reagan, and he was up against Walter Mondale and Jimmy Carter. Likewise, grinning Jimmy went up against clumsy Gerry Ford, the heir of Watergate. Richard Nixon was an aberration, but so many other factors combined to push the “likability” factor aside in 1972 and 1968. Lyndon Johnson rode to re-election on the body of John Kennedy, one of the most personable men to ever hold the office. Eisenhower was everyone’s grandfather. Truman was a feisty common man, and FDR was a lovable aristocrat with a winning smile.

So I’m going to cast my vote on Tuesday, January 8 for Fred Thompson. He seems to have the best sense of proportion for the job, as well as a common-sense pragmatism on most issues that means he’ll most often come to a position that I can live with — or at least respect.

I’m under no illusions. Fred’s not doing well in the polls, but he doesn’t seem to care much about them, and neither do I. In the end, they don’t amount to a fart in a hurricane; it’s the actual results that matter. And rumor has it that if he doesn’t do well in Iowa, he’ll bow out.

I hope he does well in Iowa, and I might end up voting for him next week even if he does withdraw before then.

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