The bright stars of John McCain and Bill Bradley that expanded like supernovas during the presidential campaign all but imploded on Super Tuesday.
Losing to George W. Bush and Al Gore in the big-state primaries leaves them with only a twinkle of a chance to influence the November election.
Still, these two contenders aren't political black holes yet. Campaign 2000 will still be able to bask in the afterglow of their contributions to American politics. In fact, their opponents were forced to co-opt many of their flashes of brilliance.
So what exactly did Mr. Bradley and Mr. McCain bring to the firmament?
*The Character Issue: By their sincerity and authenticity - two qualities born of their pre-political careers - they were the natural anti-Clintons of the campaign. They framed their ideas in the moral context of selfless virtue, rather than in the pandering context of self-interested voting blocs. McCain especially, despite his right-wing record, had a reformist character that attracted waves of Democrats and independents.
But once having taken the high-road of noble character, McCain and Bradley lost support by engaging in the low-road of ugly attacks. This black spot looked particularly bad on McCain's white-knight "crusade."
Still, their admirable qualities posed a challenge to Mr. Gore and Mr. Bush - two scions of important political families in their parties' establishment. The challenge forced these early front-runners and Ivy Leaguers to come out from the cloak of birth-right privilege and "inevitable electability" to campaign as real people without the artificial spin.
*Anti-Big-Money Reform: Underdogs are natural champions of campaign-finance reform. But Gore and McCain, by doing so well with relatively little money, forced Gore and especially Bush to take on this cause. The media will now bird-dog the candidates' fundraising and the "issue" ads of rich supporters.
To win the election, Bush will need to win over those who voted for McCain. But that means opposing the very establishment and high-rollers who helped him get this far.
*Retro Look: Bradley tried to bring his party back to the pre-New Democrat days of liberal "big ideas," such as big healthcare and big solutions for race issues. McCain tried to return the GOP to the days before it became radically antigovernment and beholden to the religious right and the South's new Republicans. He showed there was a middle way built on patriotism and not religion, "grown-up" government and not just Beltway-bashing.
Gore and Bush would now do well to keep their campaigns free of low blows and big money, while embracing the grander ideals of government from McCain and Bradley, who have some starlight worth keeping.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society