Former Bears coach Mike Ditka identifies his decision not to run for Senate in Illinois in 2004 the "biggest mistake he's ever made," given that he could have ended Obama's political career, maybe. It offers a tantalizing vision of an alternate universe written somewhere in the stars, where Barack Obama is still trudging to the Illinois statehouse each day, and President John McCain works with Senator Ditka to craft important policy on football and snacks and such.
Ditka was speaking at an event earlier this month in the North Dakota oil fields, an event that he told a reporter from the Dickinson, North Dakota, Press that he had "no clue" why he was attending. ("My secretary sets everything up.") Among other comments, Ditka took the opportunity to present his idealized vision of American political history.
Ditka, who coached the Chicago Bears to a Super Bowl victory, made several comments about his conservative politics, including saying he regrets not running against Barack Obama to represent Illinois in the U.S. Senate.
“Biggest mistake I’ve ever made,” Ditka said. “Not that I would have won, but I probably would have and he wouldn’t be in the White House.”
And him saying that's the biggest mistake he's made is significant, given that Ditka also once posed for this ESPN Magazine cover.
Could Ditka have "tackled" Obama's political ambitions, preventing his becoming "coach" of the United States, "Bear"ing the challenges of running for and "win"ning political office? No, probably not. ("Football.")
In 2004, polling firm SurveyUSA did a head-to-head poll between Ditka and Obama. The results are at right. Obama held a 7-point lead over Ditka — and that was before Obama's career-defining speech at the Democratic convention that September. Of course, Ditka declined to run, telling CNN that he had too many other obligations, including to his North Side Chicago steakhouse. (It gets good Yelp reviews: "...every once in a while you'll bump into Da Coach." "i highly recommend the Pot Roast Nachos.")
So no, not that he would have won anyway in a state that voted for John Kerry over George W. Bush by a margin of half a million votes in heavily Democratic turnout. But Ditka was right about at least one thing: He would have presented a tougher race than Obama's first opponent, Jack Ryan, who dropped out following some salacious divorce revelations. And perhaps a well-financed and somewhat-less-ridiculous-than-eventual-opponent-Alan-Keyes Ditka campaign would have given Obama the thorough vetting that Sarah Palin still seeks. Who knows!
Since his secretary got him on the plane to North Dakota, Ditka also took the opportunity to praise Canary, one of the firms drilling into the state's Bakken shale formation for oil and natural gas. Calling the extraction "America at its best," Ditka praised the economy that had sprung up. "It’s a boom for this state and for the country," he said. "Of course, if the politicians don’t screw it up somehow."
As the Wall Street Journal noted last week, the United States is becoming the largest producer of oil and natural gas in the world, thanks largely to the boom in hydraulic fracturing of shale — production growth heartily embraced by the Obama administration. How successful Canary would be under a McCain administration (or McCain-Ditka, perhaps?) is a mystery lost to the sands of unrealized probability.