SO YOU MAY have noticed John McCain and Barack Obama hanging around Lifetime this weekend, pretending to know something about the estrogen-fueled network's No. 1 hit, "Army Wives."

In the ever-growing repertoire of Stupid Politician Tricks, where to rank this bipartisan show of support for the troops, both real and fictional, by the presumptive nominees of the two major parties?

While a commercial appearance for Lifetime just isn't as reflexively hip as being on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" - though, with 13 appearances so far to Obama's three, McCain might as well be considered a fixture - the plugs didn't strike me as being as cringe-worthy as the candidates' taped appearances, along with one by Hillary Clinton, on World Wrestling Entertainment's "Monday Night Raw" a while back.

But setting aside my anti-wrestling bias for a moment, these out-of-context appearances make sense - and not just because Sunday's "Wives" premiere drew 4.5 million viewers.

No matter how much interest this election appears to have stirred, there are doubtless millions who never watch "The CBS Evening News" or CNN or NBC's "Saturday Night Live," to name just a few places a presidential candidate might be expected to pop up these days.

Everyone I know who watches "The Daily Show" tends to think everyone else watches it, too - but that could just mean we all know the same 1.9 million people, since that's how many Comedy Central says watch.

It's a big country.

Bigger certainly than it was in the days when John Adams was able to run for president without leaving his front porch, or wherever it was Paul Giamatti sat out the election season in the HBO miniseries.

Those early Americans didn't have TV, so newspapers had to pick up the slack on the mud-slinging, beating up politicians at least as badly - if a bit more slowly - than 24-hour cable news does today.

But we do have TVs, and according to Nielsen Media Research, they're on for 31 hours, 55 minutes a week in the average household.

So if you're McCain or Obama, and want to make sure your message gets heard by people who weren't necessarily tuning in to listen to it, where should you go next?

If I were scheduling them, I'd consider:

* CBS' "Great American Dog." Pols have been exploiting man's best friend since Richard Nixon used a cocker spaniel named Checkers to defend himself against charges of taking illegal contributions.

And where better to continue the tradition than on a show - premiering July 10 - that pits canines and their owners against one another in a series of challenges that will no doubt make the campaign trail look like a walk in the dog park?

(Local note: One of the humans, a New York doctor identified only as "David," is said to be from Camden originally, though it appears his 2-year-old Parson Russell Terrier, Elvis, is a New Yorker.)

* Animal Planet's "Meerkat Manor." Everything from the judicious use of power to national security is touched on in this disturbingly addictive series that tracks the day-to-day lives of a colony of meerkats in Africa's Kalahari desert.

Perhaps the candidates might want to offer a few well-chosen words about the colony's late matriarch, Flower, or about another of the show's stars, reportedly killed in a hit-and-run accident after Season 4 filming ended.

* Sci Fi Channel's "Battlestar Galactica." Plugging a show with a dying woman president (played by Mary McDonnell) might be tricky for Obama right now, but "Galactica's" depiction of the inevitable struggle between security and liberty is too topical to ignore.

* The History Channel's "Ice Road Truckers." Even if a show about men driving long distances over what might be thinning ice didn't touch a nerve with the candidates, there's the opportunity to catch viewers who may have tuned in to one of cable's chilliest shows to take their minds off the heat.

* NBC's "America's Got Talent." With Fox's "American Idol" safely out of the way till after inauguration day, this show, which returns June 17, is probably the best place to come to wave the flag for all those talented Americans who somehow avoided being discovered by all the other summer talent shows, many of which inexplicably failed to include "America" in their titles.

Whatever they do, both candidates should avoid actually participating in any "reality" shows.

Pet the dogs? Sure. Just don't try to teach them to roll over.

Television, after all, offers endless opportunities for the kind of humiliation sleep-deprived candidates shouldn't court: failure to remember lyrics, pick the correct briefcase, pass a lie-detector test, to name a few.

With that in mind, here's a few shows Obama and McCain might want to avoid:

ABC's "Wipeout," NBC's "Celebrity Circus" and, of course, Fox's "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?" *

Send e-mail to