Consultant Kari Chisholm spends most of his life helping Democrats get elected to public office, but every year he takes a couple of weeks to devote himself to a 25-pound bronze statue of a football player.
Through his website, StiffArmTrophy.com, Chisholm has correctly projected the past nine winners of the Heisman Trophy. And if Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III takes home college football’s top prize in Saturday’s New York City ceremony, Chisholm will complete a decade of correct prognostication.
Chisholm’s political life and college football obsession are not mutually exclusive.
“It’s basically an election with a highly opinionated, highly educated and very small electorate,” Chisholm said about the pool of 926 Heisman voters.
“It’s not particularly difficult, but it’s a lot of work,” Chisholm said in a phone interview Thursday from Oregon, where he’s based. “Anybody can do it,” according to Chisholm. He’s just the one willing to put in the time.
Chisolm tallies “actual votes” by monitoring what voting members of the media write, tweet and post about their decision, categorizing the voters by region, and extrapolating the unknown votes by mirroring the publicly disclosed votes. It’s a not-so-secret recipe (since he posts the method on the website) that’s worked for almost a decade.
This year, when just 22 percent of the votes had been accounted for, Chisholm announced that this year’s projected winner was Griffin and that he would win by a wide margin. But Chisholm isn’t satisfied with correctly projecting the winner. He also projects the order and margin of the remaining major candidates, often with success.
“It’s a fun thing. It always comes about a month after the election,” Chisholm said. “It’s a nice break.”
StiffArmTrophy.com began in 2002 when Chisholm, a University of Southern California alumnus, became engrossed in the Heisman race that featured Trojan quarterback Carson Palmer. Chisholm correctly projected Palmer’s victory and decided to try again the following year.
A decade later, he continues to run the site, even though he’s prohibited from using the trademarked word “Heisman” under threat of litigation.
While Chisholm announced Griffin’s likely victory in a Thursday blog post, projecting the next Heisman winner hasn’t always been this easy. In 2009, the race came down to Alabama running back Mark Ingram and Stanford running back Toby Gerhart, and with just hours before the ceremony, Chisholm still hadn’t made his “call.” But he went with Ingram and projected an extremely close contest. That’s precisely what happened. Ingram won in the closest Heisman race of all time.
After this weekend, Chisholm and his company, Mandate Media, will shift the focus back to a slate of political clients in the Northwest and around the country, including Illinois Congressional hopefuls Tammy Duckworth, Bill Foster and John Tree, Minnesota Democrat Tarryl Clark, and John Douglass, who is running in Northern Virginia’s 10th district. Chisholm is also co-creator of BlueOregon.com, a prominent progressive blog in the Northwest.