Politicians Walk Among Us

Rep. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), right, ponders his rebuttal to Senate opponent Mike DeWine's charges of harboring a marijuana-laced banana.
Rep. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), right, ponders his rebuttal to Senate opponent Mike DeWine's charges of harboring a marijuana-laced banana. (By Kiichiro Sato -- Associated Press)
By Zachary A. Goldfarb
Sunday, November 5, 2006

Every election cycle brings eccentric campaign pronouncements, bizarre candidates and strange tactics. Some are high-profile: Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) recalling the "nice little Guatemalan man" who fixes his house and telling firefighters "what a piss-poor job" they had done. Or Rep. Katherine Harris (R-Fla.) informing a Baptist newspaper, "If you are not electing Christians . . . you are going to legislate sin." Or Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) calling a man of Indian descent "macaca" and saying he enjoys ham sandwiches despite his Jewish heritage. Here are some of the less-observed but oddest developments from the 2006 campaign trail:

Did I Say That?

Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) charged Democratic challenger Rep. Sherrod Brown in a recent debate with overseeing, as secretary of state, a "scandal-ridden office" that was investigated for illegal drug use and had one employee fall sick after eating a "marijuana-laced banana."

Rep. Barbara Cubin (R-Wyo.) had her own unusual debate encounter. She was accused of walking up to a wheelchair-bound Libertarian candidate after he angered her at a debate and telling him, "If you weren't sitting in that chair, I'd slap you across the face." She insisted she said something more artful, but apologized.

Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) has tried mightily to explain his support for the Iraq war to his district, where it is deeply unpopular. A few weeks ago, he got bogged down in clarifying why the prisoner abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib was "not torture." He explained: "It was outrageous, outrageous involvement of National Guard troops from [Maryland] who were involved in a sex ring, and they took pictures of soldiers who were naked."

Offering his defense of the Iraq war strategy, Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), likely to lose his seat on Tuesday, turned to the Lord of the Rings: "As the hobbits are going up Mount Doom, the Eye of Mordor is being drawn somewhere else."

Bizarro Candidates

Most prospective 2008 presidential candidates are being coy about their ambitions until after Tuesday. A few are not. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) announced last week he'd run for president, which prompted political analyst Conan O'Brien to note, "The first thing the exploratory committee is going to do is find out, 'Who the hell is Duncan Hunter?' "

Former Alaska senator Mike Gravel decided all the way back in April he'd run for the Democratic presidential nomination, on a platform of allowing Americans to vote on major issues over the Web. He was forced into retirement in 1980 when he lost the primary.

If recent history is any guide, it's governors who become presidents. Texas, supplier of the current president, has a country singer who customarily cusses and will be called Kinky on the ballot. And then there is the maternal state auditor who asked to be called Grandma on the ballot. It wasn't allowed.

In Maine, one independent candidate, who gathered enough signatures to get on the ballot, legally changed his name to "Phillip Morris NaPier-Thu Peoples Hero" -- don't ask because we don't know either -- and asked for this mouthful to appear on the ballot. Election authorities said it was too long to fit. Besides, Peoples Hero might have other troubles. According to the Portland Press Herald, he is an ex-con -- he was shot after pointing a gun at a police officer in the mid-1990s -- who encourages former criminals to move to Maine.

And in Ohio, Sean Swain -- one-upping his Maine colleague by running for governor from a prison cell -- has asked Fidel Castro and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez for endorsements, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer's Web log.

Strange Strategies

Before he scotched a planned 2008 presidential race, former Virginia governor Mark R. Warner (D) entered a new political battlefield: the virtual auditorium. Appearing as a digital avatar, he dodged hardball questions as virtual reporters and spectators flew around the room. One spectator asked, "Who is the weird giant on stage?"

Houston offered residents a free flu shot at early voting sites, especially in black and Hispanic areas, but was forced to shut down the program after Republicans complained that city officials were trying to attract likely Democrats to the polls.

Finally, there is the saga of Tom Connolly, who earlier drew publicity for releasing details of George W. Bush's 1976 drunken-driving arrest days before voters went to the polls in 2000. He was arrested on Halloween in Maine dressed as Osama bin Laden and carrying a fake AK-47 and plastic dynamite and grenades.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company