There was a time, we'll call it the '90s, when every political year had a theme. Remember 1992, the "Year of the Woman"? The historic 1994 elections brought the "Year of the Angry White Male." Then "soccer moms" were in fashion, in 1996. By 1998, the "year of the" meme was petering out, but it will forever be imprinted with the name Monica.
It may be time to dust off the "year of" formulation because 2010 is shaping up to be the "Year of the Bad Candidate."
That's not to say that 2010 is without stars. Florida GOP Senate nominee Marco Rubio is a comer. Ditto Nikki Haley, favored to be South Carolina's next governor. Democrats point to Kentucky's telegenic Attorney General Jack Conway as a potential star. But more than any other election cycle in memory, 2010 has produced general election candidates with arresting flaws. And neither party is immune.
Already, the 2010 campaign season has been marked by the wacky Big Three: Rand Paul, Sharron Angle, and Ken Buck. When Kentucky Tea Partyers vaulted Paul to the GOP Senate nomination, the victory spurred the antiestablishment fringe active in other Republican primaries. Paul instantly became the face of the inchoate Tea Party movement. He also became its voice, gaining instant notoriety for criticizing the Civil Rights Act for impinging on private businesses. His mouth hasn't slowed. He recently dismissed the state's very real drug problem as not a "real pressing issue." Paul, you see, wants to cut federal antidrug funding. Instead, he believes, the solution lies in "rich people, because that's what creates jobs." The idea, apparently, is that prosperity will diminish drug abuse. John McCain won Kentucky by 17 points in 2008, and it should be a GOP slam-dunk. But Paul's flaws have kept the race against Conway competitive.
Nevada's Angle has actually outshone Paul for sheer weirdness. She mused about "Second Amendment remedies," and suggested that unemployment insurance has "spoiled our citizenry." She sees her Senate run as a "calling" from God, warning that Democrats are violating the First Commandment by deifying government. Seriously. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is a conventionally flawed candidate—after his almost 25 years in office, a consistent majority of Nevadans disapprove of the job he is doing. So their dilemma is who they dislike more, the toxic hack or the wing nut on a mission from God.
Buck, the GOP Senate nominee in Colorado, rounds out the Big Three. He said Coloradans should support him over his female primary opponent because "I do not wear high heels." He supports "birther" legislation, requiring that presidential candidates prove themselves natural-born U.S. citizens, in response to rumors that Obama is not one. And he questions whether the 14th Amendment, guaranteeing citizenship to those who are born here, applies to the children of illegal aliens. Social Security? "Horrible, bad policy," and possibly unconstitutional.
Is Buck the GOP's biggest Centennial State problem? Nope. That's gubernatorial nominee Dan Maes, who condemned the efforts by Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper (the Democratic nominee) to promote bike riding in the city as a "well-disguised" plot aimed at "converting Denver into a United Nations community."
Not all problem candidates are challengers. Louisiana GOP Sen. David Vitter, another birther flirt, admitted in 2007 to using the services of the "D.C. Madam." In June, it was revealed that a Vitter aide, reportedly a point man on domestic violence, had attacked his girlfriend with a knife but stayed on staff for two years.
Not all candidates' flaws are as salacious. Take Rep. Mark Kirk, the moderate GOP nominee for Barack Obama's old Illinois Senate seat. Kirk seemed to be cruising ahead of Democrat Alexi Giannoulias until embellishments to Kirk's military and teaching records surfaced, calling into question his credibility. Not that State Treasurer Giannoulias is without glaring problems. He ran in the February primary on his experience working in his family's bank, which was then taken over by federal regulators in April.