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Every election cycle, a few candidates and campaigns stand out as remarkable for their absurdity, their outrageousness, their futility or their sheer gall. They need to be recognized.
No, I’m not talking about a campaign that proves to be remarkable for its weak fundraising (such as Ohio Democratic Senate candidate Lee Fisher) or that runs a weird ad that backfires (like Kentucky Democratic Senate candidate Jack Conway’s “Aqua Buddha” ad).
Plenty of candidates come up short or make a mistake. That’s understandable and certainly forgivable. But the candidates and campaigns that follow are in a class of their own. They deserve to be singled out.
Tommy Sowers (Missouri). The Democrat raised just shy of $1.5 million through Oct. 13 and yet drew only 29 percent of the vote in a campaign that stands out for being about nothing but smoke and mirrors.
I wrote about Sowers’ campaign in this space during the summer (“Missouri 8: For Sowers, Raising Money Is the Easy Part,” June 15, 2010), after I was shocked to see the amount of attention the campaign received in the national media. Still, even I am stunned at the absurdity of the campaign.
Sowers lost to Republican Rep. Jo Ann Emerson by more than 36 points in a race that any dispassionate observer would have said was a nonstarter. Remember, Barack Obama and John Kerry each drew just 36 percent in this district, while Al Gore drew 39 percent in 2000.
In other words, this is an impossible district for a Democrat even in a good Democratic year, let alone a year like 2010. Yet, Sowers raised almost as much money as Emerson did ($1.69 million to $1.86 million) and continued right up to Election Day to raise money and brag about his prospects.
Sowers’ Sept. 19 e-mail fundraising letter borders on the delusional:
“We did it — we’ve got Jo Ann Emerson right where we want her,” it begins. “In the first quarter we out fundraised Jo Ann Emerson and had more individual and first time donors than she could have ever imagined. Through the second quarter we grew a grassroots insurgent army that rivals any in the country.
“Now with our insurgent strategy and massive grass roots army, we are preparing to go to war and readying ourselves for the ultimate victory,” the e-mail continues.
“Jo Ann Emerson, however, is so desperate to win, [sic] that she has carelessly fumbled her way into war already. While it would be easy to attack immediately, the wise warrior waits. We bleed her resources dry, and then we attack.” Oh, brother. I couldn’t make this stuff up.
A Sept. 30 Sowers e-mail proclaimed: “The race has narrowed and the time is now. ... The polls show we’re in a dead heat among voters who are familiar with me and Jo Ann Emerson.”
An Oct. 21 e-mail from campaign manager Jonathan Feifs crowed that “tens of thousands of phone calls and door knocks our team is making every week show that Independents are breaking overwhelmingly for Tommy.”
Another Feifs e-mail, this one on Nov. 1, the day before the election, went further: “In thousands of conversations with undecided voters in the district, Republicans and Independents tell us that they’re voting for a Democrat for the first time.”
As with most direct mail, the assertions here are propaganda, exaggeration, distortion and fiction. Still, isn’t there something at least a little wrong with prying cash out of people by leading them to believe that you can win when you can’t? Or were the Sowers folks so politically inept that in late October they thought their candidate could win?
Charlie Crist (Florida). If there was any doubt about his character, judgment and instincts for survival, Crist’s behavior during 2010 should have put them to rest.
Crist, who was elected governor as a Republican, sought the Republican Senate nomination until it became clear he couldn’t win it. That’s when he switched to run as an Independent, even though he was told by savvy advisers that he couldn’t win.
The governor proved himself to be the ultimate phony this cycle, placing himself at the bottom of the list of a profession that is widely regarded as filled with egomaniacs and frauds. He will say anything and do anything to promote himself, and he does it with such self-assurance and phony sincerity that it makes you want to take a shower after you’ve watched him on television.
Christine O’Donnell (Delaware). I’ve often wondered how people with no credentials can promote themselves, whether in the business world or in the political sphere, but I’ve never seen such an absurd case as O’Donnell.
O’Donnell’s background was such that it’s hard to believe anything but the most fly-by-night business would hire her. And, in fact, she didn’t seem to have a job when she began her third run for Senate. Yet Delaware Republican primary voters handed her the nomination, ignoring questions about her character and judgment.
So, while O’Donnell’s candidacy was an example of sheer gall, it’s those Delaware voters who cared only about her positions on the issues and mindless outsider rhetoric who deserve the “absurd” label.
Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.