Thursday, December 18, 2008

Rothenberg’s End of the Year Awards for 2008 Campaigns

By Stuart Rothenberg

After each election, I offer my selections for the “best” and the “worst” of the cycle. As in past years, I’ll offer up a few worthwhile nominees for each category before I make my selections.

If you don’t agree with these choices, feel free to send your ideas to my editors or to your favorite blogger (but not to me).

Master of Self-Destruction


Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.)
Tim Mahoney (D-Fla.)
Ted Stevens (R-Alaska)
Tom Feeney (R-Fla.)
Jon Powers (D-N.Y.)
Bill Sali (R-Idaho)

This list is scary. All of them strongly undermined their own appeal. But Bachmann won her race, so I’ll remove her from consideration. Stevens, who would have been a shoo-in for re-election without his ethics problems (Democrat Mark Begich almost certainly would not have run), is over 80 years old and I’m headed in that direction myself, so I’ll remove him from consideration.

It’s a hard call. Powers misrepresented himself to voters by puffing up his résumé, while Feeney was caught in the Jack Abramoff flap. Both were bad but not unusual. That leaves me with having to choose between Sali, who would have been re-elected indefinitely if he had made any effort to get along with people, and Mahoney, the hypocrite’s hypocrite. Tough call. I can’t make it. How about calling it a tie?

Strongest Republican swimmer against the tide


Dave Reichert (R-Wash.)
Erik Paulsen (R-Minn.)
Susan Collins (R-Maine)
Mark Kirk (R-Ill.)
Chris Lee (R-N.Y.)

Reichert has turned back two strong challenges in terrible environments in a swing district that has gone Democratic at the presidential level, and Paulsen beat a tough opponent in a Minnesota open seat. Mark Kirk’s nearly 10-point win in a suburban Illinois district was stunningly strong, and Chris Lee was one of the few Empire State Republicans to win. But my winner for this category is Collins, who annihilated a serious opponent who represents half the state in Congress. Collins is one of the few targeted Republican Senators who actually never was in trouble, a remarkable achievement given the national mood.

Time to stop running


Mike Sodrel (R-Ind.)
Larry LaRocco (D-Idaho)
Duane Sand (R-N.D.)
Elwyn Tinklenberg (D-Minn.)
Linda Stender (D-N.J.)
Jim Oberweis (R-Ill.)
Victoria Wulsin (D-Ohio)

This is a long list, and it’s hard to pick a “winner” in this category. Sodrel has now run in four consecutive elections. It’s time for him to find something else to do. LaRocco’s last two showings suggest that maybe running statewide in Idaho isn’t his best option. (And please don’t make me write again about another Wulsin versus Rep. Jean Schmidt race. Please.) But if Oberweis and Sand haven’t yet figured out that they ought to try something quite different, I’m not sure they ever will. So they split my vote.

Most Overhyped House Candidate


Dean Andal (R-Calif.)
Kay Barnes (D-Mo.)
Steve Greenberg (R-Ill.)
Dennis Shulman (D-N.J. )

All of these candidates are strong competitors for the most overhyped Congressional hopeful. But my vote goes to Barnes, a former mayor of Kansas City who once was paraded through Washington, D.C., as evidence of the Democrats’ strong early recruiting but who lost by 22 points to Republican Rep. Sam Graves (Mo.).

Biggest Long-Shot Winner


Tom Perriello (D-Va.)
Don Young (R-Alaska)
Leonard Lance (R-N.J.)
Walt Minnick (D-Idaho)
Anh Cao (R-La.)

Anh Cao? Anh Cao? Holy Cow!

Best Name in the New Congress


Phil Hare (D-Ill.)
Joe Pitts (R-Pa.)
Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio)
Anh Cao (R-La.)
Todd Platts (R-Pa.)
Zack Space (D-Ohio)

We are all lucky to have so many Members with “interesting” names. I expected Marcia Fudge to win this category in a walk. But coming up to nip her at the wire: Anh Cao! This makes him a rare double winner this year and should get him an appearance on David Letterman.

Most Religious-Sounding Name


Rob Bishop (R-Utah)
Eric Cantor (R-Va.)
Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.)
Steve Israel (D-N.Y.)
Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.)

Three bishops, an Israel and a hazan — I mean a cantor. (Go ask somebody Jewish if you are confused by this reference). Two Republicans and three Democrats. Two Jews, a Baptist, a Mormon and a Roman Catholic ... sounds like the opening line to an offensive joke. Obviously I’m too politically correct to choose just one. I’ll pass.

Most Overhyped, Self-Important, Delusional Presidential Candidate


Cynthia McKinney
Ron Paul
Ralph Nader
Bob Barr
Alan Keyes

Another impossible choice given the long list of grossly inflated egos. You probably didn’t realize that Alan Keyes was on the ballot in three states and that he has founded a new political party, America’s Independent Party. Don’t look so surprised.

Three of these people never, ever smile: Barr, Paul and Nader. So I’ll focus on them, since their apparent humorlessness makes them all the more offensive.

Nader is a sad case, since he had some influence in this country and has now run so many times and echoed the same message so often that he has become pitiful — too pitiful for me to award him this category.

That leaves Paul and Barr, both of whom ought to know better.

Paul was treated as a serious contender by too many in the media, and, judging from the e-mails I received, by too many of his supporters. He raised a good deal of cash but never was a serious contender for the GOP nomination. Never.

A onetime U.S. attorney and former Member of Congress, Barr came within an eyelash of being the Republican nominee for Senate in Georgia in 1992, losing a runoff to Paul Coverdell, who went on to win the seat in November. Some argued that Barr had such potential appeal (possibly in the 3-6 percent range) that he might throw the presidential race in Georgia — or even the White House — to Barack Obama. (Don’t look at me. I thought the idea was nuts and said so repeatedly.)

Anyway, according to the Georgia secretary of State’s office, Barr ended up drawing 28,812 votes, or 0.7 percent of the vote as the state’s Libertarian Party nominee for president. Nationally, Barr drew 524,237 votes — about 400,000 fewer votes than the 1980 Libertarian nominee, Ed Clark, drew.

Overhyped? Over-covered by the national media? The answer is BOTH Ron Paul and Bob Barr.

Finally, let me end 2008 with a correction. A few weeks ago I wrote that one of my errors for this cycle was that I assumed there would be one or two wild upsets that I had not expected. That was true on Nov. 4, but the recent upset win of Republican Anh Cao in Louisiana changes that. So, I was NOT in error in expecting that there would be an off-the-wall upset that I hadn’t expected in the 2008 elections. But I was in error in expecting Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) to defeat Cao.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on December 15, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.