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Run, Tiger, Run

Whether Woods would ever consider putting himself through all the necessary turmoil is, for now, an unanswerable question. If he chooses to, however, political consultants have no doubt that he could make a serious and formidable candidate. "He could do it. He'd be it. He'd be the revolution," said Joe Trippi, who ran Howard Dean's presidential campaign. Frank Luntz concurred. "I no longer do partisan politics," he said, "but a Tiger Woods candidacy would bring me out of retirement. He would capture the country."

The good news for Tiger is that there's no need to hurry, at least not based on the example of Reagan, whose personality, fame and early career trajectory most closely resembles Woods's among all who have made it to the White House. Reagan didn't start easing into politics until he was in his mid-thirties, when he became president of the actors union for the first of six terms. At forty-three he started hosting a television series for General Electric and honing his stump skills by making speeches to groups of GE employees about the wonders of the free-enterprise system. At fifty-one he made a high-profile switch of political parties and at fiftysix ran his first campaign, as a Republican, for governor of California. Not until Reagan was seventy did he take office as president. All the effort Reagan took to learn the ropes and to get politics right served him well. "The main reason Reagan was so successful," said Lance Tarrance, "was that he didn't make any big mistakes, and that's what politics is all about." In that respect, at least, big-time politics and championship golf are exactly alike.

T-Dubya: Democrat or Republican?

A good politician is opportunistic, if nothing else, and twenty or thirty years from now—roughly when Tiger Woods might consider a run for the White House—the political stars could be differently aligned than they are today. That notwithstanding, most of the political strategists interviewed for this story figure the odds are greater that Woods would run as a Republican. "Most professional athletes, once they've made their money, tend to go to the Republican side of the ledger," acknowledged Democratic adviser Morris Reid. Tiger's friend Charles Barkley has hinted that he's interested in running for governor of Alabama as a Republican. When Barkley's mother complained to him that only the rich were Republicans, he said, "Mama, I am the rich."

Some might assume, because of Woods's ethnicity, that he would side with the Democrats, and that might well be the case. Minority groups, especially African-Americans, have historically been overwhelmingly Democratic. But if Woods proved able to bring significant numbers of minorities with him, that could make him more valuable to the Republicans. "The Democrats might put Tiger at the back of the line," said Reid—possibly several spots behind their new potential superstar, Barack Obama, the young, multiethnic senatorial candidate from Illinois, whom some commentators have already labeled, somewhat confusingly, "the new Tiger Woods."

"My guess is that Tiger would stand a better chance of actually being elected as a Republican," said Dick Morris, a former Clinton adviser and now a Fox News Channel analyst. Over the years the Republicans have tried to find a formula that would bring more minorities into the party, but so far without much success. Woods could write his own ticket with Republicans if he made that happen, especially in California, where the party, despite Arnold Schwarzenegger, is woefully weak.

Another pro-GOP factor is that Woods spends most of his professional life surrounded by Republicans. Rare is the Democratic member of the PGA Tour; only slightly less rare are Democratic pro-am partners. The pitch from Republicans is easy to envision. "I would tell Tiger, join the party of Abraham Lincoln, help us bring it back to its roots," said Jack Kemp enthusiastically. "Lincoln to me defines the party of opportunity based on merit, and Tiger represents that, the ideal of an America beyond race and beyond party, where there is opportunity for all people, from the less-welloff areas of Los Angeles, where both he and I come from, to the upper-middle-class reaches of the golf clubs."

Another option might be for Woods to start his own party. Theodore Roosevelt ran for president in 1912 on the Bull Moose ticket. Maybe a Tiger Party isn't far-fetched.

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