There are those who would say that former House member Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) could and should have a leg up in winning the open Senate seat in Oklahoma, a conservative, Christian state, where President Bush leads Democrat John F. Kerry in polls by 25 to 30 percentage points.
But whether the good doctor from Muskogee continues to shoot himself in the foot seems highly relevant to his prospects these days.
The most recent remark that Coburn has had to explain is noting that the choice between him and his opponent, Democratic Rep. Brad Carson, is one between "good and evil." The comment made members of Coburn's own party cringe and generated op-ed pieces condemning it across the state -- even one from the conservative Daily Oklahoman in Oklahoma City.
"We wouldn't agree with Carson on all issues, and certainly his record during his four years in Congress is open to scrutiny. . . . But we're pressed to think of a time when Carson embarrassed either his district in particular or Oklahoma in general," the newspaper stated. "Coburn should curb the self-righteousness and concentrate on what he would do if elected to represent Oklahoma."
Coburn has a history of uttering inflammatory words that he later has to eat. On Friday, the local media reported that the family doctor said that Oklahoma is lagging in business development because "you have a bunch of crapheads in Oklahoma City that have killed the vision of anybody wanting to invest in Oklahoma." His spokesman was at a loss to explain to whom Coburn was referring.
And then there was the comment not long ago about supporting the death penalty for those who perform abortions.
"He's on his own private mission with his own small band of followers," Carson said Friday. "With everything that's going on in the world, using good and evil to describe a Senate race turns off voters."
Carson released a poll last week that shows him slightly ahead, but most independent polls to date have Coburn leading. Still, two Republican strategists, who asked that their names not be used so that they could speak freely, said that Carson is in a good position to pull ahead. The second-term House member is considered a moderate, and he is part Cherokee, which means something in Oklahoma, where the Native American voting block has become increasingly influential.
The Invisible Candidate
John F. Kerry continues to be elusive to the media contingent traveling with him on his charter jet. Not that anyone is focused on this much, but regular reporters on the plane say that the Democratic presidential nominee has not had a formal news conference since Aug. 9. On Aug. 2, he took two questions from the media in Grand Rapids. On Aug. 14, during a flight from Portland, Ore., to Idaho, he came back to chat about windsurfing.
Since then -- nothing. Reporters who sit 20 feet from Kerry only see him with a cast of thousands at rallies.
On Wednesday, traveling journalists got excited when he walked up to the assembled horde on the tarmac near Cincinnati. But after making a brief statement marking "the tragic milestone" of the 1,000 dead U.S. troops in Iraq, he walked off, ignoring shouted questions.
The campaign further raised reporters' ire Thursday by moving the news media back from Kerry as he bounded down the stairs from the plane -- symbolically and literally suggesting that Kerry was putting distance between himself and the news media.
"I think it's ridiculous," said Jodi Wilgoren, who covers the Kerry campaign for the New York Times. "There are a lot of things happening in the country and the world, and the public has legitimate questions they'd like to ask. I don't know what he's afraid of. He's criticized the president for not giving enough press conferences. And now we face daily arm-wrestling to ask a question."
Privately, campaign aides say the campaign is trying to keep Kerry "on message" and does not want to run the risk that he might make other news.
Spokesman David Wade defended the campaign's media-access policy, saying that Kerry has been "dramatically more accessible than the incumbent president of the United States."
Nader Gets GOP Help in Florida
Ralph Nader was dealt a blow in Florida last week when a judge barred him from the presidential ballot in the state. But the independent presidential candidate got some eleventh-hour legal help from a seemingly odd source: Ken Sukhia, a well-known Republican lawyer with ties to President Bush, has been hired by the campaign to fight the ruling. Sukhia helped the GOP with the nasty recount battle in 2000.
Nader has been attracting enthusiastic GOP help nationwide in his efforts to get on the ballot, infuriating Democrats who believe he will drain votes -- again -- from their candidate.
"What do people expect? Certainly the Democratic lawyers don't want to help us, that's for sure," said Kevin Zeese, a spokesman for Nader. "Everyone is more interested in our choice of lawyers than the battle we're fighting. I find it very amusing."
Campaign Stop Gone Fowl
The press pool report award of the week goes to Becky Diamond of MSNBC, traveling with Kerry: "A gentleman was arrested for throwing chicken wings off of his balcony at local cops. We have video of the man who one member of the press describes as, 'going afoul of the law.' No video of the weapon of the crime (the wings). The wings looked very crispy -- thrown without any of the usual side sauces or celery sticks."
Researcher Lucy Shackelford contributed to this report.