Calling all candidates
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we’re now in an election year.
Not that one. You are not in charge of thinking about the presidential race yet. Even the people who have to go to the polls first know it’s still OK to tune out on that one. I am thinking of the New Hampshire Republicans who said, in a recent poll, that Mitt Romney was currently at the top of their favorites list.
This year, we are mainly doing Congress. And already lots of excitement! Scott Brown, the former senator from Massachusetts, appears to be planning to run again from his former vacation home in New Hampshire. Seems promising. We have not had a good when-the-heck-did-you-move-here controversy since we lost Liz Cheney from the Wyoming race.
Brown has not officially announced his candidacy, but he did show up shirtless for the New Hampshire news media when he took part in the state’s recent Penguin Plunge. Also, according to a report in The Boston Globe, while the Plungers were supposed to just race in and out of the water, Brown persevered into the frozen ocean until he was ordered back by a lifeguard.
Besides Scott Brown’s chest, one of the early election themes in 2014 is tons of Republican incumbents being driven crazy by Tea Party primaries. Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi has a big Tea Party threat, despite the fact that Cochran perfectly represents the traditional political creed of his state, which is that the federal government should do as little as possible, except for giving a whole bunch of money to Mississippi.
At least half of the Senate Republicans running for re-election have Tea Party primary opponents. In Washington, this is regarded as pretty much a license to do everything possible to secure the base. Even your Democratic colleagues will just say, “Oh, he has a Tea Party opponent,” and ignore the fact that you are sitting on the floor, gnawing the draperies during debate.
But there ought to be some sorting. For instance, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas has a Tea Party challenger. In fact, he has a bunch. The best-known is Rep. Steve Stockman, who virtually never shows up for campaign events, has raised virtually no money and whose campaign office was condemned.
Honestly, Cornyn should be stripped of all his rights to pander to the right in the name of Tea Party primary problems. The next time he gets up on the Senate floor to rant about Obamacare, tell him to sit down and let Thad Cochran have his turn.
Some voters get primaries, others barely get ballots. Most of us are sadly aware that some of the most important races we’re going to be asked to decide this fall will involve an incumbent pitted against nobody. Or, if we’re lucky, Fred Who Wandered By at the Convention.
Perhaps you remember the Idaho Senate race of 2010. Well, perhaps you don’t. That’s really OK. Mike Crapo, the incumbent, was such an odds-on favorite that no one was willing to run against him until William Bryk, a New York bankruptcy lawyer, declared his candidacy for the Democratic nomination. Bryk was taking advantage of rules that did not actually require you to live in Idaho in order to run for a U.S. Senate seat there, and his slogan was “If Elected, I Will Move.” The publicity helped draw in other Democrats, one of whom beat Bryk in a primary and then went on to be trounced by Crapo in November. But at least there was somebody to show up for the debates.
This year, the Idaho Democratic Party reports that it’s going to be in good shape.
“You don’t have to send us any candidates!” hastily interjected Dean Ferguson, the state party communications director. They do seem to have everything covered. A wealthy Boise businessman has thrown his hat into the ring to run against Gov. Butch Otter, and state Rep. Shirley Ringo is going to run against Rep. Raúl Labrador. Way to go, Democrats! And great work, Idaho, with the name thing.
Meanwhile, in North Carolina, Clay Aiken, the runner-up for the second American Idol title, has announced that he is running for a Democratic nomination for the House. The seat in question was gerrymandered to be safe for Republicans, and this brings up an interesting possibility.
It’s hard to recruit recognizable names for long-shot congressional races. But there are dozens of former American Idol finalists. Many of them hailed from red states, and many of them don’t seem to currently have a whole lot to do with their time.
Maybe the Democrats could recruit retired American Idols to fill out their empty ballot lines in the South. Maybe there is a similar crop of Republican semi-celebrities available to run in places like New England. We could check out the hockey teams.
Honestly, somebody is always better than nobody. Except possibly when we are talking about Donald Trump running for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in New York.
Gail Collins is a columnist for The New York Times.