Think of it as a no-limit hold `em tourney with incredibly high stakes. As in any tournament, there's a few players who get knocked out before the seat gets warm, like they almost entered just for the excitement of going all-in. And then there's the real players...
Al Sharpton and Dennis Kucinich are the railbirds. Nobody even remembers if they were in the tournament, but they're hovering over the table, commenting on the play of every hand, offering table decisions before the floor manager gets there, throwing in their calculations when a deal is discussed. Some of the players will shoot them dirty looks and maybe even complain to the house, but these guys ain't going anywhere. Why should they? This is the most fun they've had in years.
Howard Dean is the super-aggressive player who throws the entire table into a state of panic...up until the point when he's actually forced to turn over a hand. For the first few rounds he's raising pre-flop on about two-thirds of the hands, backing off when somebody comes back at him, but in using those stolen blinds and small pots to build quite an early lead and table image.
And then, in round two or three, somebody calls one of those big raises and calls him down to the river, where he finally, sheepishly turns over a hand, taking down a huge pot with...84 offsuit?! Okay, he flopped two pair, but looks shoot around the table...he's been raising with that?!?! Well, that'll be the end of that, right? Nope: still raises every hand except he's now getting two or three calls every time. The stack dwindles quickly right up until the point where he tries to get cute against a small blind holding pocket Queens. Goodbye.
Wesley Clark. Supposedly made the final table at some WSOP event one year and rumor has it he took a pretty big title at Tunica or the Taj or somewhere. Walks into the cardroom like he owns the place, standard-issue nylon/embroidered casino jacket, hat, and bottled water. A blank, hard stare that could melt steel. Knocked out early when he calls a huge bet on the AK7 flop with pocket Jacks.
John Edwards is the player that you barely even notice for most of the tournament. Folded around to him on the button, maybe try a steal? Nah, pitch the cards in. A small raise to him in the big blind, maybe defend? Nah, pitch the cards in. He'll pick up hands here and there, of course, and while others start to drop he's still in there. He's below par, but in there longer than most.
Of course, there does come a point when the blinds start getting really high and they start coming around every other hand or so. And there's the small problem that he's outchipped behind the leader about 4-1 at this point. He'll have to go in with some marginal hand and hope to get lucky, but people do get lucky once in a while, and if not, that second-place money is still pretty good.
And John Kerry? He was supposed to be among the contenders but just couldn't buy a hand early, and when he did find something he managed to misplay it beyond comprehension. Slowplay a monster flop and let somebody else turn a gutshot? Rebuy. Overplay a middle pocket pair? Rebuy. Triple rebuy. Double add-on. In so deep that if he cashes he still might lose money.
And then, he doubles through. Two hands later he doubles through again, picks up some blinds, then wins another monster pot. The rebuy period ends, players start dropping like flies, and you can barely see him behind all the stacks. Another player asks if he'd be willing to make a deal or reserve a save, and he just starts laughing.