Democratic Senate candidates aren't talking about the difference between rape and "legitimate rape," the remark that sank Missouri Republican Todd Akin's 2012 Senate bid. But give them some time, and they may find their own ways to crash.
Republicans have been piling up points for political malpractice with their talk of impeaching President Barack Obama and their plan to sue him for allegedly running roughshod over the Constitution. Those moves, guaranteed to turn off moderates and drive liberals to the polls, already are helping Democrats raise millions of dollars.
But Democrats are proving able competitors when it comes to self-inflicted damage. They're handing Republicans gift after gift, along with good reasons for GOP optimism about winning the six seats needed for a Senate majority.
The latest stunner is the leak of a baldly political campaign blueprint for Michelle Nunn, a real contender to pick up a Senate seat for Democrats in Georgia — at least until now. The memos, obtained by National Review, are raw and blunt, and pretty much realpolitik as usual. Yet they are also embarrassing and potentially devastating.
That starts with the fact that they were reportedly posted online for a brief time. How could that possibly have happened? It sounds like a bad Cameron Diaz movie about a sex tape mistakenly sent to the cloud and a bunch of people's iPads. Yes, that movie. It's called "Sex Tape."
Such an astonishing lapse says nothing good about the Nunn operation. And the saga only gets worse, with explicit memos on how the campaign would try to coopt the press; how much money Nunn would try to extract from Jews, Asians and gays; how she should position herself on Israel to maximize her take from Jews; and how her opponent would go after her.
David Perdue, the former Fortune 500 CEO who recently won the Republican nomination, doesn't even need a campaign plan. He can just use Nunn's handy guide. He already is, in fact, on a new fundraising website called TheNunnPlan.com ("Nunn left her campaign plan public and unprotected on Google. Sign up today if you're appalled by what it contains") and with (arguably disingenuous) Twitter posts such as "I want to be a Senator for all of Georgia, not just people who will help me politically" and "Pretty unsettling to think a candidate would just reach out to groups based on who gives."
Last week the donor Democrat was Sen. John Walsh, the decorated Iraq War veteran who was elected lieutenant governor of Montana in 2012 and appointed to fill a Senate vacancy this year. He was his party's best hope in that state until The New York Times reported July 23 that he had plagiarized at least a quarter of his master's thesis.
Handicappers quickly changed the race rating to heavily favor Republican Rep. Steve Daines. The GOP also moved fast. Four days later Daines was delivering its weekly video address, telling a national audience all about his family's long history in Montana — the five generations, the widowed Norwegian homesteader great-great grandmother, the values he has passed down to his four children, such as never plagiarize. All right, he didn't say that last bit. But he did mention personal responsibility and accountability. Close enough.
The prognosticators have made similar tweaks to the Iowa Senate race, now viewed as a toss-up between Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley and Republican state Sen. Joni Ernst, a lieutenant colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard, who won the GOP nomination after boasting in a TV ad about her girlhood castrating hogs on a farm.
Braley, a trial lawyer once favored to win, has been in damage-control mode since March, when the Republican research group America Rising posted a video in which he is seen telling a group of Texas lawyers that if he didn't win, the next chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee might be Sen. Charles Grassley — "a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school, never practiced law." Smooth move while running for office in a state where Grassley and farmers are revered. Since then, Braley has also had to defend his first ad against Ernst (fact checkers said it was wrong) and missing 15 of 20 meetings of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs in 2011 and 2012.
GOP candidates are not immune to stumbles, of course, or awkward footage of events past. But Democrats have a much tougher electoral map and almost no margin for error as they try to hold their Senate majority. Their chances will dissipate altogether if their nominees keep acting like amateurs in a pre-Internet world without reporters, fact checkers, opposition researchers and the technology that has made their work a whole lot easier and more influential.
Follow Jill Lawrence on Twitter @JillDLawrence. To find out more about Jill Lawrence and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.