- Associated Press - Thursday, August 12, 2010

Hard-pressed for good news this election season, President Obama’s Democrats claim to see a silver lining in the Republicans’ choice of political novices, sometimes mistake-prone, for critical Senate races.

Snubbing the GOP establishment’s recruits, Republicans this week chose Ken Buck in Colorado, a county prosecutor who insulted his “tea party” backers and talks about significantly reducing the Education Department, and Linda McMahon in Connecticut, a former World Wrestling Entertainment executive shown on video kicking her performers in the crotch.

Those two join tea party-preferred candidates Rand Paul in Kentucky and Sharron Angle in Nevada, campaigners who have struggled with embarrassing missteps and cable-ready gaffes.

“Whatever folks say about the general atmospherics, the tea party takeover of the Republican Party is really producing real millstones for them,” Democratic Party Chairman Tim Kaine said in an interview Wednesday. He called Mr. Buck, Mrs. McMahon, Mr. Paul and Mrs. Angle “wacky” with “ideas about the role of government that are way outside of the mainstream, that are just going to be offensive to people.”

Anyway, that’s what the Democrats hope. They argue their experienced candidates have the upper hand in general election match-ups with these untested folks.

Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the head of the GOP Senate campaign committee, doesn’t buy it.

“That’s wishful thinking on their part,” he said in an interview. “This election’s going to be about jobs, spending and debt.” And on those measures, Mr. Cornyn said, Democrats will lose because it’s Mr. Obama’s policies that are “outside of the mainstream and extreme.” He accused Democrats of trying to change the subject by tearing down GOP candidates who were nominated. “Every single one of them is on the side of the American people,” Mr. Cornyn said.

This is no ordinary year.

An anti-establishment fervor has swept the country. Voters are down on lawmakers of all political stripes. In a June Associated Press-GfK poll, only a little over a third said they’d like to re-elect their own congressman, while more than half said they want someone else. Just a quarter of the public approved of the Democrat-controlled Congress. Other surveys show support in the teens.

At a time of animosity toward Washington, is political experience really such a plus?

Out-of-power Republicans seem to have enthusiasm on their side, fueled in part by tea party activists. On Tuesday, for example, 406,588 Republicans voted in Colorado’s Senate primary while 338,184 Democrats cast ballots in their contest, sobering numbers for Democrats looking ahead to November when turnout will be critical.

As they did earlier to Mr. Paul and Mrs. Angle, Democrats wasted little time Wednesday in portraying both Mrs. McMahon and Mr. Buck as extreme.

Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, who leads the Senate Democrats’ campaign effort, disparaged Mrs. McMahon as “a corporate CEO” who “built an empire peddling violent, sexually explicit material that glorified the exploitation of women and the mentally disabled.”

In turn, Mr. Cornyn called Mrs. McMahon a self-made businesswoman and a “political outsider with a fresh perspective.” He castigated Democratic state attorney general and rival Richard Blumenthal as a “career politician.”

“Career politician.” Fighting words in this election year.

Mr. Bennet, the Colorado Democrat who was appointed to the Senate and is seeking his first full term, proudly declared in his own primary victory speech:

“This election was the first time my name has ever appeared on a ballot.”

Never mind that his campaign was run by experienced operatives. And ignore the crowing from the Democratic National Committee, which promoted the fact that Obama’s Organizing for America made 11,500 calls and knocked on nearly 3,500 doors in the final four days on behalf of the senator. Democrats plan a unity rally in Denver on Thursday that includes defeated primary candidate Andrew Romanoff.

Democrats insist that because of the candidates the Republicans are nominating, Mr. Obama’s party now has an excellent chance to hold onto or, in the case of GOP-held Kentucky, pick up seats that were considered in jeopardy or out of reach at the start of the year.

But polls in Kentucky show Mr. Paul, the Republican, comfortably leading state Attorney General Jack Conway, the Democrat, less than three months before the election to succeed retiring GOP Sen. Jim Bunning.

And surveys show hotly contested races in Nevada, where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is unpopular and trying to fend off the upstart Mrs. Angle, and in Colorado where Mr. Bennet is up against Mr. Buck.

In Connecticut, Mr. Blumenthal leads Mrs. McMahon, but polls show his hefty advantage has shrunk this summer and Mrs. McMahon - a wealthy candidate willing to spend millions - appears to be gaining steam.

If these Republicans are as deeply flawed as Democrats say they are, why are the contests so competitive?

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