COLLINS: Of Hooters, zombies and senators

Keywords Forefront / Opinion

Gail CollinsToday, let’s take a look at debates that do not involve Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. You can thank me later.

I am talking about the races for the U.S. Senate, people. Attention must be paid! And, as a reward, we can also discuss a new campaign ad featuring zombies.

There are 33 Senate contests this year, although voters in some of the states may not have noticed there’s anything going on. In Texas, for instance, Paul Sadler, a Democrat, has had a tough time getting any attention in his battle against the Tea Party fan favorite Ted Cruz. Except, perhaps, when he called Cruz a “troll” in their first debate.

In Utah, Scott Howell, a Democrat, has been arguing that if the 78-year-old Sen. Orrin Hatch wins, he might “die before his term is through.” Howell also proposed having 29 debates. The fact that Hatch agreed to only two was, he claimed, proof of the senator’s fading stamina.

Nobody in Massachusetts could have missed the fact that there’s a Senate race going on. In their last debate, Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren sounded like two angry squirrels trapped in a small closet. A high point came when the candidates were asked to name their ideal Supreme Court justice. “That’s a great question!” Brown said brightly, in what appeared to be a stall for time. He came up with Antonin Scalia. Then, after boos from the audience, Brown added more names, until he had picked about half the current court, from John Roberts to Sonia Sotomayor.

Meanwhile, in Nebraska, the Democrat Bob Kerrey began his debate remarks with: “First of all, let me assure you that I’m still Bob Kerrey.” This seemed to be a bad sign.

There are actually about only a dozen Senate races in which there is serious suspense about who’s going to win. To the Republicans’ dismay, many of them are in states that were supposed to be a lock for the GOP.

Tea Party pressure produced several terrible candidates. We have all heard about Todd Akin in Missouri, who claimed after a recent debate that Sen. Claire McCaskill wasn’t sufficiently “ladylike.”

In others, the Republicans found awful candidates without any help from the far right.

Sen. Bill Nelson in Florida received the gift of Rep. Connie Mack IV as his Republican opponent, and promptly unveiled an ad calling Mack “a promoter for Hooters with a history of barroom brawling, altercation and road rage.” Mack’s fortunes seem to have been sliding ever since.

The race where the Democrats are getting a nasty surprise is in Connecticut, where Rep. Chris Murphy is having a tough time against the Republican Linda McMahon, the former professional wrestling mogul. McMahon has spent a record $70 million of her own money over the past three years trying to convince voters that what Connecticut really needs is a senator who knows how to create jobs in a simulated sport awash in violence, sexism and steroid abuse.

Last time around, Carly Fiorina, who was running for Senate in California, created a sensation with “Demon Sheep,” featuring an actor wearing a sheep mask with glowing red eyes.

Now John Dennis, the Republican opponent of the House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, has a new California sheep-themed conversation-starter. It portrays Pelosi as the leader of a cult of zombies, preparing a lamb for sacrifice. Then Dennis breaks in, saves the lamb, calls one of the zombies “Dude,” and denounces Pelosi for supporting the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens who are suspected of being terrorists.

Not your typical Republican. Dennis ran against Pelosi before and got 15 percent of the vote. But I feel the zombie ad could well push him up into the 20s.•

• Collins is a New York Times columnist. Send comments on this column to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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