- - Thursday, August 7, 2014

Democrats have been searching desperately for the next Todd Akin. Two years ago, the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Missouri shot himself in the foot by talking about “legitimate rape,” as if there were any such thing. It cost Republicans dearly. This year foot-shooting is in season again, and the deadeye marksmen are Democrats.

Sen. John E. Walsh dropped out of the U.S. Senate race in Montana on Thursday. Max Baucus had relinquished his seat early so that Mr. Walsh could be appointed, giving him the incumbent’s advantage against a Republican challenger. Mr. Walsh looked great on paper. He’s an experienced politician who spent three decades in public office, including a term as lieutenant governor.

Tight Senate races tend to focus a spotlight that Mr. Walsh had not seen before. Opposition researchers check the resume first, and Mr. Walsh had padded his. A plagiarism investigation at the U.S. Army War College could strip Mr. Walsh of his graduate degree. His career has been cut short because he took a risky shortcut.

This is not the first time a candidate has been his own worst enemy. Teams of researchers sift through everything a candidate has said, looking for the one word or phrase that can be turned into a career-ending attack ad. Most people weren’t familiar with the word “macaca” in 2006, but when George Allen said the word, considered by some an African racial slur, he was deprived of what should have been an easy victory.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and his colleagues vowed “never again,” convinced that untested “Tea Party” candidates were more prone to such mistakes than establishment candidates (though Mr. Allen was certainly an establishment candidate), and Democrats were convinced that enough Republican Senate candidates would say something dumb enough to ensure continued Democratic control of the Senate.

So far, not so much. Iowa was considered a safely Democratic seat until the Democratic candidate opened his mouth. Rep. Bruce Braley, a trial lawyer, told his fellow trial lawyers at a forum far from Iowa, at what he thought was a closed fundraiser, that Democrats had to retain the Senate lest a mere “farmer” like Chuck Grassley be allowed to chair the Senate Judiciary Committee. The comments were taped by a less-than-sympathetic guest and Mr. Braley more or less tanked. Iowa is now leaning Republican.

Candidates sometimes survive their mistakes, but that’s not as common as it used to be. Everybody is watching, and every savvy candidate knows there’s someone in the audience with a cellphone to record and broadcast every stupid comment. Democratic control of the Senate is theirs to blow.

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