Garry Trudeau's "Doonesbury" is predicting a victory for Barack Obama, and newspaper editors around the country are debating whether to publish the comic no matter the results of the election.
Wednesday's strip is set in Iraq and features military characters huddled around a television that proclaims "And it's official -- Barack Obama has won. . . ."
In an e-mail to The Times, Trudeau said newspapers should run the strip because ". . . polling data gives McCain a 3.7% chance of victory. There's a greater risk that their presses will break down on election day. So I've been encouraging editors to choose hope over fear. And reminding them that if I'm wrong, it'll be my face that'll be covered with egg, not theirs."
Trudeau said he's not worried about the comic if his prediction is wrong. "I'd be a lot more worried about the country than the strip. One reporter has already suggested I just carry on with an alternative universe in which Obama wins. It's not a crazy idea . . . "
From the John McCain camp, spokesman Tucker Bounds said: "We hope the strip proves to be as predictive as it is consistently lame."
Editors first saw the comic on Wednesday. "I thought it was funny," said Michael Weinstein, features editor for the Charlotte Observer in North Carolina. "But it's an accuracy issue. We won't know the outcome of the election until Wednesday.
"It's just a matter of humor. Is the strip funny if McCain wins? Satire humor is a real difficult subject."
At the Chicago Tribune, "we are reserving the option of running the strip on Wednesday, but we of course would not typeset until we confirmed the result of the election," said Tim Bannon, one of the paper's feature editors.
Universal Press Syndicate has offered substitute comics -- repeats of August strips -- to papers not comfortable running the strip, said Kathie Kerr, spokeswoman for the syndicate. Papers aren't obligated to let Universal Press know if they use the substitute, so there's no way to know how many of "Doonesbury's" 1,400 subscribers will publish the comic.
At the Los Angeles Times, the comic pages go to press in the afternoon and Wednesday's will have been completed well before polls close. Times editors have decided that in the interest of accuracy, it would be best to wait to see the results of the election. If Obama wins, the comic will run on Thursday. If not, the paper will run repeats until the story line ends on Friday.
The possibility of inaccuracy is not something the syndicate is concerned about.
"If he's wrong about this, then he's wrong about it," Kerr said. "It's a comic strip."
Many editors agree and will run the strip as scheduled.
"If he's wrong, he's wrong," said Debbie Van Tassel, assistant managing editor/features at the Plain Dealer in Cleveland.
"We don't feel it will be embarrassing for us. It's not like the strip is offensive."
John Robinson, editor of the News and Record in Greensboro, N.C., wrote in his editor's blog: "I'm thinking that if McCain wins, the embarrassment is Trudeau's, not ours. [Is] there anyone who doesn't think he's liberal? Besides, if McCain does win, just imagine how much fun it will be to watch how Trudeau handles the turnabout."
Villarreal is a Times staff writer.