Hoyas for McCain?

Forget the polls. Sen. John McCain's campaign thinks the best indicator of their fortunes may well be the play of Georgetown's basketball team.

Published February 5, 2008 10:50PM (EST)

If you want to look at the same early indicators for how the night will shape up in the GOP race that the McCain campaign will turn to, forget exit polls. Just check the score of the Georgetown University basketball game.

John McCain and his senior strategists are among the most superstitious people in politics, and over the course of this primary season, the Hoyas have become something of an omen to Mark Salter, McCain's longtime speechwriter/Senate chief of staff/intellectual alter ego. A Georgetown alum, Salter has season tickets in the front row at the Verizon Center; about the only thing that gets him more fired up than Mitt Romney is Big East basketball. (At the bar after the Super Bowl Sunday night, he cursed at the TV when the Boston Fox affiliate compared the Giants' win to Villanova's 1985 NCAA tournament upset win over Georgetown).

As it happens, the Hoyas have been a near-perfect predictor of McCain's fortunes this year. The last time Georgetown lost a game was the night before the Michigan primary, when Pitt beat them 69-60; the next day, Romney beat McCain. The day of the South Carolina primary, where McCain narrowly beat Mike Huckabee to avenge his 2000 loss to George W. Bush, the Hoyas crushed Notre Dame.

When Florida Gov. Charlie Crist endorsed McCain three days before the primary there, Salter was marooned in a ballroom without a TV to watch the Georgetown-West Virginia game. Tracking the score online while at a Rudy Giuliani speech (I'm a fan, too; my wife went to Georgetown, and we have our own tickets nowhere near as good as Salter's), I sent Salter updates by e-mail as the Hoyas prevailed on a last-second blocked shot by Patrick Ewing Jr. By then convinced the team's results were linked to his own, McCain called Salter afterward to tell him about the play. A few days later, he had won Florida and become the GOP front-runner.

So who do the Hoyas play tonight? Big East bottom-dwellers South Florida. Playing in D.C., the Bulls are probably bigger underdogs than Romney is (though his loss to Huckabee in West Virginia, orchestrated by McCain strategists at the last minute, doesn't bode well for him). If they can pull off the upset, surely Romney can, too. But if the Hoyas hang on to win, as expected, McCain might do the same. Tipoff is at 7:30 p.m. Eastern -- just in time for the polls to close.

By Mike Madden

Mike Madden is Salon's Washington correspondent. A complete listing of his articles is here. Follow him on Twitter here.

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2008 Elections John Mccain R-ariz.