Congressional hopefuls avoid media, events at 11th hour of elections

A collection of some more famous political gaffes caught on tape that candidates do not want to repeat.
By Sandhya Somashekhar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 21, 2010; 10:46 PM

With less than two weeks before the midterm elections, candidates all across the nation are doing . . . not much of anything?

Congressional hopefuls from California to Delaware are shunning the traditional trappings of campaigns, avoiding public events, debates and other venues where they can't control the action. Many are keeping their schedules secret and limiting their in-person appearances and have canceled interviews on national television in favor of smaller, friendlier venues.

The most high-profile instances have involved tea party favorites running for the Senate - including Rand Paul in Kentucky, Joe Miller in Alaska and Sharron Angle in Nevada - whose political inexperience and unorthodox positions have sometimes led them to say impolitic things. Over the weekend, private security hired by Miller went so far as to handcuff a reporter who was seeking to ask the Republican about his time as a government lawyer.

Several Republican candidates have also declined invitations or pulled out of debates. In Florida, debates for governor and Senate races were canceled this month after organizers could not get commitments from the Republican contenders or Gov. Charlie Crist, who is running for the Senate as an independent.

In a televised debate in Texas on Tuesday, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill White ended up debating his Libertarian and Green Party rivals after Gov. Rick Perry (R) skipped the event.

Democrats have also been evasive at times. Rep. Paul E. Kanjorski (Pa.) drew widespread attention when he said he would not hold town hall meetings in August for fear of attracting "nuts" wielding cameras. Rep. Ike Skelton (Mo.) has been unwilling to debate his opponent. And reporters in Nevada say Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid has been as reticent as Angle when it comes to answering questions.

The calculation for the candidates is simple: They feel pretty good about their chances and don't want to risk a gaffe that will sabotage their campaigns. But their actions are also a test of what voters expect from their candidates and whether they will support someone for public office who shuns the public.

What's unclear is whether this is how campaigns are going to be from now on or whether it's just an anomaly in a whirlwind year.

A little of both, said Ross Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University.

"I think it is a product of a time in which you have a number of candidates who are so vehemently and rabidly anti-establishment," he said. "These are angry people, and angry people tend to make mistakes."

At the same time, he added, "retail politicking is quaint. In House seats and certainly for Senate seats, the opportunity to actually press the flesh is not going to really have that much of a return. Most campaigning these days is done electronically through the mail. It's a further sign of alienation of people from their government, and it can't be a good thing."

(INTERACTIVE GRAPHIC: Campaign 2010 races)

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