05/05/2012 01:06 pm ET Updated Jul 05, 2012

Kentucky Derby 2012: Betting on Candidates the Way You'd Bet on a Horse

LOUISVILLE -- If you are here on Derby Weekend, it's easy to lapse into thinking that Louisville is the center of the world, or at least America.

It's neither. The crowds here don't "look like America" as our increasingly diverse country is defined. This is a whiter, older, more Anglo and more Southern scene than the new normal -- though it was notable that, for the first time, a female jockey won the Oaks race for fillies.

Still, the Derby at its upper reaches is a magnet for politicians, not so much for the old reason -- publicity -- as for the proximity of money. People who come here bet on candidates the way they bet on horses. They study the field, the track, the weather and the record.

The rumor on the Sky Terrace yesterday was that Mitt Romney was going to come to town today. I reported it -- quickly and, I confess sloppily. I evidently was wrong. He has "no public events" today, according to his campaign. Mitt's also busy with family matters: his son Tagg's wife just gave birth to twins. I blame my flub on two mint juleps.

I could see why he'd still be tempted by some private events. There are dinners and other to-dos around town where politicians -- the Dems and the GOPs both -- would very much want to have a chance to meet with would-be bettor/donors.

On the Democratic side, there is a younger generation of pols mingling with a new generation of donors. The former include Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, who is widely regarded as a man interested in running for president in 2016, as is Virginia Senator Mark Warner, who considered running but didn't in 2008. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was here too, to talk up a horse race in L.A., he said.

The big political news this morning comes from across the Ohio River in Indiana. Six-term GOP Senator Richard Lugar, a former pillar of what formerly was a GOP establishment, is badly trailing his tea partyish rival, Richard Mourdock, for the party nomination.

As a contrast, perhaps, to the day's activities here, President Obama will be headlining his first two official campaign rallies, in Columbus, Ohio and Richmond, Virginia.