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The Vice Presidential Sweepstakes

photo editing by PhotoShop
photo editing by PhotoShop

By Thomas Hauser

Most people don’t know it, but Republican Party insiders say that Sarah Palin was the “safe” choice as John McCain’s running mate. Some McCain strategists opposed her selection on grounds that America isn’t ready for a vice president who names her children "Track, Bristol, Willow, Piper and Trig." And there was a school of thought that someone who’s a heartbeat away from the presidency should be able to do more than recite sound bites on national security and major economic issues. But in the end, the half-baked half-term Alaska governor was a safer pick than the alternatives.

Over the years, McCain has been a vocal advocate for the creation of a federal boxing commission. That put him in close contact with a number of people in the boxing community, and he hoped to choose one of them as his running mate.

McCain’s first choice for the vice presidential nomination was Bernard Hopkins. Part of McCain’s appeal on the campaign trail is that he was a prisoner of war for five years. He feels a strong bond with Hopkins as a consequence of Bernard having endured a similar experience. Also, Hopkins is a fiery debater who would have stood up to Joe Biden in the October 2 vice-presidential debate. Alas; in the end, Team McCain felt that Hopkins is too old and that his presence on the ticket would highlight the issue of McCain’s age.

Next, McCain turned to Oscar De La Hoya in the belief that he’d bring Hispanic voters into the fold. But Oscar said he’d only accept the nomination if the Democrats nominated Manny Pacquiao or Dennis Kucinich as his vice presidential opponent.

Lou DiBella was McCain’s third choice on the theory that Americans would like an anti-establishment candidate who went around the country ranting, “Politics is a blankety-blank business [with the blanks filled in].” But DiBella couldn’t sit still long enough to complete the vetting process.

Shelly Finkel was disqualified on grounds that he looks too much like Dick Cheney.

WBC president Jose Sulaiman was on the short list because of McCain’s admiration for Sulaiman’s fundraising ability. Naysayers pointed out that Jose is a Mexican citizen and thus not eligible for the vice presidency under the Constitution of the United States. That didn’t bother Republican leaders, who have shredded the Constitution in recent years. But as with Hopkins, the age issue did Sulaiman in.

Some of McCain’s advisors favored Teddy Atlas and the slogan, “McCain-Atlas: Mess with US at Your Own Peril.” But there were concerns that Teddy would make the ticket too much of a “straight-talk express.”

Evander Holyfield was favored by those who wanted McCain to strengthen his appeal to evangelical Christians. Those same advisors likened Evander’s heroic pursuit of the heavyweight championship to McCain’s longtime support of George Bush’s economic policies and suggested the slogan, “McCain-Holyfield: Why face reality?”

Bob Arum was also under serious consideration. McCain operatives considered the slogan, “Yesterday, we were lying; today, we’re telling the truth.” But after conducting several focus groups, they changed that to “McCain-Arum: Trust Us.” Arum was a close runner-up to Sarah Palin.

Before the choice of Palin was finalized, bumper stickers and banners were also prepared for the following tickets:

John McCain and Dan Goossen:
“America’s checkbook is in safe hands”

John McCain and Floyd Mayweather Sr:
“Republicans: We’re the party of family values”

John McCain and Cedric Kushner:
“The Republican Party: One success story after another”

John McCain and Mike Tyson:
“Sound financial management for America”

And then there was Don King, who has homes in the swing states of Florida and Ohio. Ultimately, King was passed over because he’s too closely identified with George Bush. That’s too bad. Imagine the banners and bumper stickers – “McCain-King: Only in America”

* * *

Paul Newman, who died of cancer this past weekend, left his mark on boxing with his 1956 portrayal of Rocky Graziano in Somebody Up There Likes Me. He was a star of the highest magnitude.

A friend once told me about an incident that occurred thirty years ago, when she was standing on line in an ice cream shop and realized that Newman was directly behind her.

“I’m not going to make a fool of myself,” she resolved. “I won’t bother him. I’ll act like nothing out of the ordinary is happening.”

That worked until she got outside and realized that she didn’t have her ice cream cone with her. So she went back into the shop and approached the counter, where Newman was ordering his ice cream.

“Excuse me,” she told the counter attendant. “I ordered an ice cream cone and paid for it, but you didn’t give it to me.”

“Yes, I did,”

“No, you didn’t.”

Yes, I did.”

At that point, Paul Newman interrupted. “Excuse me, ma’am. Your ice cream cone is in your pocketbook.”

* * *

On the literary front --

There’s a tendency to look askance at “self-published” books. In today’s computer age, anyone with a checkbook can be published. But every now and then, a self-published offering is worth the read.

Sorcery at Caesars by Steve Marantz (Inkwater Press) is about Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, and their 1987 megafight, which, in Marantz’s words, gave Leonard “bragging rights to an era.”

The book was published pursuant to a “hybrid” arrangement. The publisher absorbed more of the costs than it normally does. But there was no advance and Marantz paid some of the expenses.

“I couldn’t get a traditional publisher interested in this,” Marantz says. “It’s a dated story; I’m an unknown writer. But writing the book was a rewarding experience. People ask me, ‘Why did you go to all that trouble if you’re not making any money from it?” The answer, I suppose, is, ‘I’m a writer.’”

A good one.

Sorcery at Caesars is entertaining history. Both fighters and their careers are nicely sketched: Leonard (the 1976 Olympic gold medalist and darling of America, who made US$40,000 for his first pro fight) and Hagler (a talented amateur, who had turned pro three years earlier and earned fifty dollars for his first fight).

Hagler is sympathetically drawn. In a foreward to Sorcery at Caesars, Leigh Montville writes, “Marvin was the common man doing uncommon things. He began local and stayed local.”

Conversely, it’s clear that Marantz is not a fan of Leonard as a person. While acknowledging that there was “a touch of 007 in his suave and cold appraisal,” the author opines, “Leonard was larger than life and sometimes smaller.” Kenny Leonard (Ray’s older brother) is quoted as saying, “People look at Ray and say, ‘Oh, he’s a nice kid, little smile and everything.’ But Ray got something inside of him, you know, it’s terrible. It’s a completely dark side.”

Marantz does some interesting work in plumbing the depths of that dark side and the havoc that cocaine wreaked on Leonard’s life in the mid-1980s. He also makes the case for believing that, at a crucial time in his career, Hagler succumbed as well (although Marvin denies it).

Whatever the temptation, Mike Trainer (Leonard’s longtime attorney) later observed, “Ray is always looking at the edge of the cliff, fascinated as to how close he can get to it.” That fascination with life on the edge coupled with the lure of more glory and more dollars led Leonard to Hagler.

Marantz’s writing flows nicely, and that’s true of his description of the fight as well. Hagler was a 3-to-1 favorite. But he didn’t bring his “A” game that night, while Leonard fought as well as he could.

Judge Lou Filippo scored the bout 115-113 for Hagler. Dave Moretti called it 115-113 in Leonard’s favor. For the record, watching the fight on closed-circuit television, this writer had it 114-114. In other words, the decision could have gone either way. As it was, the third judge (Jo Jo Guerra, who was in la-la land) voted 118-110 for Leonard.

“Leonard,” Marantz writes, “sold himself to two judges as a salesman sells a product, a con man sells a lie, or a magician sells an illusion. More important, he sold himself to Hagler, who gave him just enough respect and room to close the deal.”

Or as Larry Merchant said years later, “Leonard stole it fair and square.”

* * *

And last, some words of wisdom from cut man Danny Milano: “Between rounds, if you’re working on a cut, you don’t want the fighter to move his head. And chances are, he got cut in the first place because he wasn’t moving his head. Go figure.”

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at

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