Strategists also recommended that Woods break into politics cautiously. "The first thing I would advise Tiger to do would be to find a few candidates he believes in, both Republican and Democrat, and speak out for them," said Morris L. Reid, a former Clinton-administration official who now works as a political and business consultant. "If he's smart he'll play both sides of the aisle, flirting with all the pretty girls at the dance. The minute he goes with one party or the other, he'll get painted in a certain way, and at the beginning I think it's more important for him to create his own identity."
A critical early part of creating that identity, Reid believes, should be shoring up his relationship with minority groups. "Tiger has never fit into any minority mold," Reid acknowledged. (Woods calls himself "Cablinasian"; he is roughly half Asian, one-quarter African-American, one-eighth Caucasian and one-eighth Native American.) "But there's a perception that to some degree he's run away from his minority background. Minorities should be in love with the guy, the way they were with Jackie Robinson for the dignity with which he crossed the color line back in the 1950s. But the fact is Tiger's got some issues." One mistake Woods made that many in the African-American community have not forgotten, Reid said, was declining to attend a 1997 presidential ceremony honoring Robinson; he said he was too tired. Another issue is his choice of girlfriends. "You can't help who you fall in love with, of course, but it hasn't helped his standing among minorities that both his girlfriends have been white, and now he's going to marry this Swedish woman [Elin Nordegren]," Reid said. "All this can be corrected politically, but it will take some work." Without the active support of minorities, Reid thinks, Woods may have trouble cultivating a political base with an intensity comparable to, say, George W. Bush's far-right base or Bill Clinton's support in minority communities.
(It should be noted in passing, however, that Nordegren could prove to be quite a political asset for Woods. In media shorthand she is often depicted as a "former nanny and swimsuit model," but she actually comes from an accomplished intellectual family. Her mother is a member of the Swedish cabinet and her father covers the White House for Swedish television.)
Eventually Woods will have to decide whether he's a Democrat or a Republican (see below), and there are two schools of thought as to the best timetable for declaring which. The first would be to affiliate with a party years before his first campaign to build up a backlog of goodwill among party loyalists. This was the strategy both Reagan and Schwarzenegger chose before running for governor in California. The second would be to wait until the eleventh hour, essentially creating a bidding war for his services and heightening the overall drama of both the decision and the subsequent campaign. This was the path taken by General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the hero of World War II, before his successful presidential run in 1952, and more recently, if less successfully, by Generals Colin Powell and Wesley Clark when they considered campaigns for the White House.
Woods's choice, however, will probably be determined by the circumstances in play as he contemplates his f irst campaign—and almost certainly that will not be a race for president. "Even if Tiger does everything right, there will have to be intermediate steps," said Lance Tarrance, Roger Staubach's pollster. As any job applicant knows, gaining experience is something of a catch- 22: Until you have it, it's hard to get it. And for someone who looms as large in the public mind as Woods, the problem is even more ticklish, because starting out too small—as a mayor, for instance, or even as a U.S. representative—could be politically fatal. But there are ways. He could begin, for example, by accepting a presidential appointment to serve on a special commission of some sort, or by heading a delegation to solve a crisis in a Third World country. "People like candidates who can fix things more than they like ideologues," observed Stengel.
The best target for Tiger's first personal campaign would probably be for either a governor's house or a seat in the U.S. Senate. Woods currently lives near Orlando, Florida, and Morris Reid suggests the Florida governorship as a promising first goal. The state is chock-full of golfers and evenly divided among Democrats and Republicans (as we have learned in the last few presidential races). Governing it, the nation's fourth most populous state, would give Woods the kind of big-numbers executive experience that future presidential voters might find impressive. Others, however, felt that Woods would fare better by avoiding the drudgery of state politics and running first for the Senate, an office with more of a national profile. Some also argued that he should establish himself politically in his native state of California. With its large Asian, minority and immigrant populations, California might be more open to Woods's unique, multiethnic appeal.
Another strategic issue for Woods to ponder is how much to emphasize his sports background. Jack Kemp, who never achieved anything close to Tiger's level of universal celebrity during his glory days in the NFL, was forever posing with footballs during his 1996 vicepresidential campaign and deploying sometimes-tortured football metaphors in an effort to connect with the voters. Apparently, it wasn't enough. By contrast, Bill Bradley deliberately underplayed his basketball fame during the 2000 Democratic primaries. "To some degree, I think, Bill thought it was demeaning," said Stengel, Bradley's chief speechwriter during the campaign. "But in retrospect that was a mistake, and toward the end of the campaign, when we were getting desperate, he started shooting baskets with kids, and we saw that it really helped."
In Woods's case, his golf background would probably be nothing but an advantage. For one thing, his fame and reputation as a golfer are so established he would have no need, like Kemp, to remind voters of his successes. For another, the elements of character that contribute to his success in the individual sport of golf—the self-control, the focus, the perseverance, the ability to think strategically—are so obvious that they would naturally resonate with voters. Half-jokingly, Stengel suggested golfrelated campaign themes along the line of "I'll play it as it lies" or "I'll get this country out of the rough."
Historically, golf's reputation has been as a sport of the wealthy, and many presidents, especially John Kennedy, went to great lengths to downplay their association with it. But Don Van Natta Jr., a New York Times reporter whose book First off the Tee chronicles the history of golf and the presidency, says Woods should have no such concerns. "Tiger's multiethnic, middle-class background will make that completely moot," he said. Frank Luntz, the former Republican consultant, agrees: "In a campaign, Tiger probably wouldn't want to talk about golf as a sport so much as his profession, which he learned and mastered at a young age, by playing public courses. As a model for young people seeking opportunity through hard work, there could hardly be a more inspiring example, especially given the barriers Tiger has had to break to succeed," he said.
In the long run, however, Tiger's success in politics probably would depend most on the force of his personality and his ability to project conviction. "Tiger, with that great smile of his, has a rare star quality," said Reid. "He sucks the oxygen out of the room. When he's there, you know it—wherever he is, it becomes his event." The question that some observers raise is whether Woods has the stomach for the viciousness of politics (he can sometimes have a thin skin) and the temperament to work the rope lines day after day, shaking hands and kissing babies. At heart, Woods is something of a loner and a control freak. But in that, Van Natta sees several parallels with previous occupants of the White House. "Nixon was the supreme loner, of course, and George W. Bush has an occasional prickliness and an obsession with punctuality and details that seems to be very much like Tiger's," he said. "Tiger's charisma reminds you of FDR, JFK and Reagan. But people who knew Reagan said that, for all his gregariousness, you couldn't get past a certain place with him; he would never get close." The presidency is a lonely job. Fundamentally a president has to know who he is and to be comfortable in his own skin. By all accounts, Tiger does and is.