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In final days of Election 2010, watch out for rookie mistakes

Some races in Election 2010 could hinge on an ill-timed gaffe uttered late in the game. Joe Miller, Sharron Angle, and Ken Buck are among the Senate candidates who have already made missteps.

By Staff writer / October 20, 2010

Senate candidate Joe Miller and his wife Kathleen hold a news press conference following a candidate forum at the Dena'ina Center in Anchorage, Alaska, on Oct. 11.

Bill Roth/Anchorage Daily News/AP

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Washington

The final days of Campaign 2010 are upon us, and this time around there’s more action than usual.

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The reason: the number of inexperienced, high-profile candidates – mainly for the Senate, mainly of the conservative “tea party” variety. And there’s no telling what they will say. In a few races, it won’t matter. Few truly believe the entertaining Christine O’Donnell (R, tea party) is about to become the junior senator from Delaware.

But a host of other races in Election 2010 are close, and they could hinge on an ill-timed gaffe uttered late in the game. Take Ken Buck, the tea-party-backed Republican nominee for Senate in Colorado. Last Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Mr. Buck asserted that homosexuality is a choice and then compared it to alcoholism. Apparently he wasn’t taking notes when New York gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino (R) got his head handed to him recently for saying that children should not be "brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality" is acceptable.

Mr. Paladino had been seen as a long shot all along to win his race – and now not even that. But Buck was seen as having an excellent shot at defeating appointed Sen. Michael Bennet (D). Now, if the gaffes keep rolling in, that could be in doubt.

Regardless of what one believes about homosexuality, it’s just not good politics to alienate the considerable portion of voters who feel otherwise about gays and increasingly support gay rights, analysts say. This is especially true in an election season dominated by the economy.

Joe Miller, the Republican Senate nominee in Alaska, is another political newbie and tea partyer whose actions and statements have put him in a tight race with the woman he defeated in the primary, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who is running a write-in campaign. Mr. Miller’s recent problems are too numerous to list here, but suffice it to say, when a candidate’s private security detail is putting a reporter in handcuffs, the campaign is not going well.

Miller’s life could get even more complicated if records about his departure from his government job and possible misuse of government computers are made public before Election Day. Several news organizations have sued for the records. The judge has said he will rule on an expedited basis.

Then there’s Sharron Angle (R, tea party) versus Sen. Harry Reid (D) of Nevada, both of whom are gaffe machines. Clearly, being an experienced, senior politician – Senator Reid is running for his fifth term and is Senate majority leader – provides no guarantee of verbal discipline. But Ms. Angle ran a trifecta recently, managing to insult Hispanics, Asians, and Canadians in one appearance.

First, she told a group of Hispanic high school students that some of them looked Asian (in the context of questions about an ad she has run showing illegal immigrants who look Hispanic). In the same speech, she also described the US border with Canada as “where the terrorists came through.” Canada has demanded an apology.

In the Kentucky Senate race, Rand Paul (R, tea party) and state Attorney General Jack Conway (D) got into it this week. Mr. Conway started it by running an ad, widely seen as over the top, questioning Mr. Paul’s religious faith. But instead of taking the high road and suggesting his opponent should be focused on what voters care about – again, the economy – first-time candidate Paul took the bait and took offense. That race has tightened in recent weeks, and any more unforced errors could seal the deal for either side.

When asked to look ahead to a Senate that includes enough tea party adherents to form a caucus – say, five or six – some Republicans suggest waiting to see who actually gets elected.

“I’m thinking some of these people are going to get tripped up along the way and end up losing,” says a Republican strategist. “I’ll believe five or six when I see it.”

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