When the "regular guy-ness" of presidential candidates makes headlines, you can guess it must be summer.
This past week's political polls showed that President George W. Bush wins "most regular guy" over presumptive Democratic candidate John F. Kerry. When it comes to flipping burgers, voters go for the truckin' Texan over the Boston Brahmin.
Never mind war, terrorists, taxes, gas prices, employment and the economy. With whom would you rather chow down on denim day? Of course the pollsters' presumption is that Americans prefer burgers to, say, quiche or escargots
As all-American symbolism goes, the barbecue factor is not insignificant. Lots of people cast their vote on the basis of a candidate's "likeability," though arguably burger-side manner isn't so compelling during wartime.
Meanwhile, a recent CBS News poll reports that Kerry leads Bush among registered voters 49 percent to 41 percent. Kerry's lead grows even stronger when Sen. John McCain is proposed as his vice president. Never mind, again, that McCain has said "no" more times than a virgin on her first date. The poll found that 53 percent prefer a Kerry/McCain ticket to just 39 percent for Bush/Cheney.
Something seems almost desperate about all this polling. We're like worried hens clucking and scratching the dry earth in search of a morsel to sustain us. What's missing, of course, is a candidate voters are enthusiastic about.
Democrats don't really want Kerry, who is their best bet not necessarily to inspire, but, more pragmatically, to beat Bush. Three Democratic consultants, feeling chatty at the White House Correspondents' Dinner, all said they secretly wished McCain were their candidate.
Similarly disenchanted, Republicans increasingly are leaning across the partisan divide, abandoning faith in their president. At last count, some 19 percent of registered Republicans expressed a preference for Kerry.
Outside the Beltway, percentages and labels don't seem to matter much. I don't have a poll, but I do have a mailbag. And ears. Regular folks know that things can shift dramatically between now and fall, that polls are primarily for pollsters, pundits and politicians. And that war, not burger bonhomie, will determine November's outcome.
History tells us, too, that numbers don't always tell the story. Remember that Michael Dukakis was way out front coming into the 1988 election. "President Dukakis" didn't happen.
What's also clear - no polls necessary - is that Americans are hungry for leadership, for a president who neither hyperorates as Kerry does nor "underoraculates," as Bush is wont to do. For someone with leadership credentials, who unites rather than divides at the big table at which he so clearly belongs.
One name keeps bubbling up and we've heard it before. These days it's back on the streets, not so much in Washington perhaps, but scattered around at America's lunch counters, dinner parties and latte lines.
The fact that his name keeps surfacing confirms at least disenchantment with current choices, as well as the need for someone to bridge the political schism that seems to expand each day.
Powell's resume is unrivaled: Military general, war hero, secretary of state, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, author of a rags-to-riches story from Harlem to the White House, gifted speaker, peace-maker, dream-stitcher, a man who transcends race, gender and social class while exuding the kind of class that is recognizable if not easily defined.
Outside the Beltway, no single individual is so admired or so unlikely to fill the office to which many still wish he would aspire.
On many levels, he's the quintessential candidate, a composite American icon who combines the best of the parties' candidates with an ethnic twist that defies pigeonholing. Of Jamaican descent, he's "black," but not African-American. He's an Everyman, who knows which fork to use, but he wasn't born with a silver spoon in his mouth.
He's every bit the straight-talker John McCain is. And can he talk! Anyone who has heard him speak knows that Powell can talk for an hour straight, with fluency and polish, without ever glancing at a note. Like Vice President Dick Cheney, he's a veteran of Washington, but unlike Cheney and Bush, he's also a veteran of wars. A military man, he doesn't rush to battle, but goes full throttle when called.
Loyal, perhaps to a fault, honest and dependable - and reputedly no slouch in the regular-guy department - Powell is a dream president. Too bad it's just a dream.