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Oops: Campaign season of gaffes and gotchas

By Calvin Woodward

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Oct. 29 2010 10:23 a.m. MDT

WASHINGTON — Memo to novice political candidates: Know thy Constitution. Don't tell Hispanics they look Asian. Pay special attention to what you say when you are in front of cameras. Which you almost always are. Expect your chitchat to go viral.

And, really, try your best to stay out of court.

Now relax. Be yourself — if you dare.

This is the year of the neophyte in politics. Anti-incumbent sentiment in general and the tea party in particular have brought fresh faces forward, many wet behind the ears in the brutalities of a modern campaign.

The result: a rash of impolitic politics — gaffes, raw rhetoric, unsettling theories — followed by gotchas, recycled mercilessly by opponent's campaign ads, cable TV and the blogs.

In Delaware, Christine O'Donnell got tangled in the First Amendment, appearing unaware it separates religion and government. The Second Amendment caused grief for fellow Republican Sharron Angle in Nevada, who entertained the notion of "Second Amendment remedies" — that would be a call to arms — if government isn't brought to heel.

Frank Caprio, Democratic candidate for Rhode Island governor, did not, as has been widely reported, tell President Barack Obama to shove it after the president declined to endorse him.

He told Obama to "really shove it."

It's been messy watching outsiders trying to claw their way in.

Candidates rewarded in the primaries for speaking their minds and upending convention have sought safe harbor from their earlier selves.

Angle has backed away from calling unemployment insurance "spoilage" and the fund for BP oil spill victims "a slush fund." She denies she ever favored an end to Social Security or veterans benefits, although she previously said she did.

Her aside to Hispanic high school students that "some of you look a little more Asian to me" showed why political consultants cringe at spontaneous remarks and why candidates stop making them.

Similarly, Democratic Rep. Bobby Bright, a freshman from Alabama who has spent much of the campaign dissociating himself from Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, might have regretted saying Pelosi "may get sick and die" before he has to vote on her speakership again.

California Republican Senate candidate Carly Fiorina regretted "the whole situation" when a live mike caught her calling opponent Barbara Boxer's hairdo "so yesterday."

The goof was almost quaint, grounded in a technology that's been around long enough to trip up Ronald Reagan and countered by Boxer with humor instead of the modern assault weapon, an attack ad. (Reagan joked about bombing Russia in a 1984 sound check into a live mike.)

To be sure, candidates of all backgrounds have stepped into problems of their own making during the long campaign. Rich candidates who live in fancy houses have thrown stones at opponents who live in fancy houses. Senate candidates Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, and Mark Kirk, Republican of Illinois, exaggerated their military records.

The experienced Harry Reid, Senate majority leader and Angle's Nevada opponent, cast himself as a savior of epic proportions, remarking that "but for me, we'd be in a worldwide depression."

Still, the success of scores of tea party favorites in Republican primaries gave rise to a phalanx of eager achievers unaccustomed to the hothouse; hence, more rough edges. A pizzeria owner, rancher, doctors, war veterans and a pilot are among them.

One of the most prominent of the tea party picks, though, is Joe Miller, a lawyer, former judge and Yale grad who's taken a series of rookie missteps.

Miller, a Republican Senate hopeful from Alaska, criticized federal unemployment, health care and farm aid only to acknowledge his family has benefited from those subsidies in the past. And he's been saddled by the disclosure that as a borough attorney in 2008, he admitted to lying about improperly using government computers and was disciplined.

One of the most unschooled candidates came not from the tea party but out of nowhere.

In South Carolina, Democrats were mortified when Alvin Greene, an unemployed military veteran charged with communicating and disseminating obscene materials to a teenage college student, won the party's Senate primary.

Greene made the best of a sticky situation when confronted by reporters after a court appearance earlier this month. "The opponent started the recession!" he cried repeatedly.

He was recently seen at a state fair, making bunny ears with his fingers over a TV anchorman's head.

Associated Press writer Philip Elliott contributed to this report.

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