Campaigning on anything

Sharron Angle and Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) both left their bunkers this week to face the reporters they have spent weeks literally running down the street from. Angle appeared on a television station in Nevada, home of the highest unemployment in the nation, and said unemployment benefits “spoil” the citizenry. Kirk — caught lying about his military record as well as his time teaching nursery school — didn’t fare much better, calling his untruths “quite small when you reach back 30 years.”

What do they have in common? Angle and Kirk are GOP candidates in marquee Senate races, hoping to knock off Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and fill President Obama’s former Senate seat, respectively. As spring has turned to summer, with the midterm elections now just four months away, the Republican wave has hit the shoals in several key Senate races, creating the possibility that the Anything Can Happen rule of politics could end up saving Senate Democrats a few seats, and likely their majority. Both Angle and Kirk remain slightly ahead in polls, but Angle’s statements about transitioning out Social Security yanked Reid from a political deathbed. Kirk’s résumé fraud and his defense that he “misremembered it wrong” have breathed new life into the struggling campaign of Alexi Giannoulias, whose troubles surrounding a failed family bank had rendered him a wounded candidate from the outset.

But nowhere is the reversal of fortune more ironic, and for Republicans more painful, than in the Sunshine State, where Tea Party darling and conservative star Marco Rubio is now behind Gov. Charlie Crist in every poll. Crist’s initial plummet in the GOP Senate primary contest forced him to launch an independent bid that was written off as a losing quest fueled by a few family members for staff and insufficient funding as contributors to his former GOP campaign filed suit to get their money back.

But the leading candidate in the Democratic primary for Senate — Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.) is now struggling to fend off an eccentric billionaire who has caught up with him in the polls. So wary are establishment Democrats of Jeff Greene, who got rich betting against the housing market just before the 2008 crash and is friends with Mike Tyson, that should he prevail they will most certainly mount a serious effort to help elect Crist.

Greene joined the oil spill in the Anything Can Happen category and Crist is suddenly leading the pack.

For weeks he has raced around the state in spill-response mode, official and everywhere, bursting with critical updates. He is often flanked by other Gulf-state governors, doling out the empathy in his polo shirt and khakis, feeling Floridians’ pain on every television broadcast he can find. There is no need for an advertising budget; no commercial could show Crist doing his job better than television news does.

Suddenly Rubio is struggling to break through the Crist news blockade, save for the unwelcome item about the foreclosure on a house Rubio owns in Tallahassee with a Florida lawmaker after the two stopped making payments in February. During Rubio’s rise Crist couldn’t make a dent in his popularity, even after it was revealed Rubio had charged personal items on a Florida Republican Party credit card. In a January 2010 New York Times magazine article about how he had eclipsed Crist, Rubio was praised by leading conservatives as a potential GOP savior. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said “if there is a face for the future of the Republican Party, it is Marco Rubio.”

Now Rubio is holding town halls in the panhandle to focus on spill response, hoping he can appear more senatorial than the governor. There are a few months left. Anything Can Happen.

Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.