The worst candidate of 2012

November 19, 2012

Running for office has often been compared to walking a tight rope without a net or hosting live television. If you are good, it shines through. If you aren't, it, well, shines through.


Today we are handing out the Fixy -- the coveted political awards that we, well, made up -- for the worst candidate of the 2012 election. Tomorrow we give out The Fixy for the best candidate. (If you missed our picks for best and worst ads of the election, check them out!)

As always, there were lots and lots of choices for worst candidate of the cycle. (Funny thing about human nature: The nominations for worst candidate outnumber the nominations for best candidate by about a five-to-one ratio.)

But, in our mind, the race to the bottom wasn't all that close.  We are giving The Fixy for worst candidate of 2012 to Texas Gov. Rick Perry for his remarkably poor presidential campaign.

Remember back to the late summer of 2011. Perry entered the race with what looked like a straight path to frontrunner status. He was a conservative's conservative with a proven record of doing what he said in Texas. He was a fundraising powerhouse. He had a charisma that former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney lacked. It was all there for the taking.

Until, it became clear that the idea of Rick Perry running for president was very different than the reality of Rick Perry running for president. While Perry began strong with a much-touted appearance in Waterloo,  Iowa, that single event wound up being the best moment of a campaign whose trajectory was almost entirely downward.

There was the decidedly odd speech that Perry gave in New Hampshire. There was a series of debate performances in which Perry seemed (at best) thinly-versed on the issues of the day. And then there was Perry's brain freeze in a November debate in which he simply could not remember the third federal agency he wanted to eliminate -- a lock-up that he punctuated with his now-famous "Oops." (Even these many months later, the Fix stomach churns watching the Perry clip; it has to be among the most awkward moments in the history of politics.)

While it was probably over for Perry before "oops," it was definitely over for him afterwards. He finished fifth in the Iowa caucuses, sixth (with ONE percent) in the New Hampshire primaries and then dropped out of the race before the South Carolina primary. (In a final coup de grace of bad political judgment, Perry endorsed the presidential candidacy of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.)

The gap between what was expected of Perry and what he delivered coupled with incredibly high profile of the race in which he chose to flop makes Perry a clear choice for worst candidate of 2012.

Of course, there were plenty of other poor candidate performances during this election. Here's a few that are deserving of honorable mention:

* Thad McCotter: That the Michigan Republican Congressman chose to run for president at all was a major head-scratcher. (The extent of McCotter's "fame" came from his regular spots on Fox News Channel's overnight programming.) McCotter could have been forgiven his quixotic presidential campaign. (After all, what politician doesn't want to run for president?) But what sealed McCotter's spot on our worst candidate list was his amazing failure to qualify for reelection in House district after large numbers of his petition signatures were deemed fraudulent. McCotter eventually resigned from the House in July, ending one of the oddest congressional careers we have ever witnessed. (One thing to McCotter's credit: He quoted Bob Dylan's "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" in the statement announcing his resignation.) 

* Ric Sanchez: If you blinked, you probably missed Sanchez's "candidacy" for the Texas U.S. Senate seat. When he got into the race in May 2011, Democrats touted Sanchez, a former commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, as just the sort of candidate who could make the Lone Star State competitive. Not so much. By December 2011, Sanchez was out of the race -- citing a need to put his family first. (His home in San Antonio had been devastated by a fire a month earlier.) Even before the fire, however, Sanchez had proven a lackluster candidate -- raising just a few hundred thousand dollars in a state where running for statewide office is a tens-of-millions-of-dollars proposition.

* Todd Akin: It's a very rare candidate -- Christine O'Donnell, we are looking at you -- who can take a race that his/her party will win and turn it abruptly into a race that the party will lose. Missouri Rep. Todd Akin is just such a  candidate. Had Akin never agreed to a single media interview or debated Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) after he won an August Republican primary, we would almost certainly be talking about him as the next senator from the Show Me State. But Akin chose a different route -- telling a local news channel that "legitimate rape" rarely causes pregnancy. Um, what? From that day onward, Akin had no chance to win. Everyone knew that, except for Akin and his increasingly small political inner circle who insisted he was staying in the race as a matter of principle. (What principle? The one about costing your party a Senate seat?) Akin wound up losing by 16 points in a state that Mitt Romney won by 11 points. Underperforming your presidential nominee by 27 points earns you a spot on the Fix's worst candidate list every time. (Honorable, honorable mention: Richard Mourdock.)

* Pete Hoekstra: Less than two years removed from losing a gubernatorial primary in the Wolverine State, Hoesktra, a former Member of Congress, took just 38 percent of the vote against Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) in the 2012 election. The most notable moment of Hoekstra's campaign was for all the wrong reasons; his "Debbie Spend-It-Now" ad got national attention for being so very offensive. Make it stop.

Who did we miss?

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House for the newspaper and Web site.
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Sean Sullivan | November 19, 2012