Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Let the Awards Begin: The Worst Self-Inflicted Wound of 2006

By Stuart Rothenberg

After every election, I offer a list of the best and worst, the most and the least. I started doing that the other day, but I ended up filling an entire column with a single category: The Worst Self-Inflicted Wound of 2006.

I will get back to a more exhaustive list of the best and worst campaigns and candidates before the end of the year, but since there were so many self-inflicted wounds this election cycle, I figure I might as well devote an entire column to the nominees, as well as to my logic in picking a winner.

So, without further DeLay, uh, I mean delay, here are the nominees this year:

Don Sherwood (R-Pa.)

Bob Ney (R-Ohio)

George Allen (R-Va.)

John Kerry (D-Mass.)

John Sweeney (R-N.Y.)

Mark Foley (R-Fla.)

I know, I know. This is an impossible choice. How can anyone choose from among these all-time, self-inflicted screw-ups? All of the nominees would be worthwhile winners, and in any other year any of them could have taken home the award. But, alas, life isn’t fair, and I have to choose a single winner for ’06.

I’m eliminating Foley right away, since his self-inflicted wound actually occurred well before his abortive re-election bid and over an extensive period of time, though it came to light only during his campaign. His problem was a series of wounds, not a single one, and frankly, I don’t even want to spend time thinking of the things that Foley wanted to do.

Ney’s problems also occurred over an extended period, though they obviously impacted his race for re-election. I guess we could call that golf trip to Scotland a decisive event, but it occurred in 2002. So, like Foley, he gets a pass.

That leaves four. The problem with Sherwood is that I’m not sure whether he had a self-inflicted wound or he inflicted a wound on his girlfriend. I am not sure whether we are talking about a single act or two, whether having a girlfriend (along with a wife) and allegedly (note my legal disclaimer) trying to choke her are two self-inflicted wounds or two parts of a single wound. Since Sherwood admits to one but not the other, he seems to come down on the side of the two separate incidents. Who am I to argue? He’s off the hook.

Sweeney is in a bit of the same situation as Sherwood. Obviously, the suggestion that the New York Republican got into a physical scuffle with his wife damaged Sweeney’s re-election prospects. But was that photograph of him drinking with college students necessary for the second alleged personal scandal to lead to his defeat? If so, then it was the two scandals together that cost Sweeney his seat, not a single self-inflicted wound. I’m afraid I have to drop him from contention.

That leaves us with Allen and Kerry, two Senators who did their best to destroy their reputations with stupid, ill-timed comments that meet the single "wound" criterion.

Somehow, it seems only right that two Senators are battling it out for the award.

On one level, the Kerry comment about getting good grades or you’ll end up in Iraq was worse than Allen’s "macac" comment, since Kerry wasn’t even on the ballot and, as my wife pointed out, he compounded his goof by insisting that he was trying to tell a joke when he almost certainly wasn’t.

Moreover, Kerry’s comment could have not only hurt his party’s prospects in 2006, he could also have seriously derailed his own presidential hopes for ’08. Impacting two election cycles, not just one, with a single comment is a stunning achievement, even for Kerry.

Having said that, even the Massachusetts Democrat couldn’t keep his party from winning the House and the Senate. While some conservative talk radio windbags apparently got angry when I expressed doubt that Kerry’s comment would have much of an effect on the midterm elections, most voters apparently shrugged off the Massachusetts Democrat’s inept remark.

And if Kerry’s comment undermined his potential presidential bid for 2008, I doubt it hurt him very much, since his chances weren’t very good to begin with.

Allen’s :macaca" comment, on the other hand, had a profound impact. It turned a laugher of a race into a close contest. And since Democrat Jim Webb eventually won the race - thereby giving Democrats control of the Senate and unified control of Congress - the Virginia Republican not only brought about his own defeat and destroyed his once considerable chances of winning the Republican presidential nomination in 2008 but he also realigned the nation’s entire governing balance for the next two years.

Because of that jaw-dropping achievement, the award for worst self-inflicted wound must go to Allen. But it was a very close contest.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on September 20, 2006. Copyright 2006 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.