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That Was the Year That Was, 2004 Edition

Back by popular demand: another best and worst of the year column. As usual, I’ll offer some nominees before selecting my own choice for winner. If you disagree, keep it to yourself. I really don’t want to know.[IMGCAP(1)]

Worst House Candidates/Campaigns of 2004
• Democrat Tony Miller in Kentucky’s 3rd
• Illinois Rep. Phil Crane (R) in the 8th district
• Democrat Paul Babbitt in Arizona’s 1st
• Democrat Gary King New Mexico’s 2nd
• Connecticut’s Rep. Christopher Shays in the 4th district

Crane lost in a reliably Republican district, while Miller allowed Rep. Anne Northup to win 60 percent in a district where 55 percent is a blowout. King, with a huge family name in the state, seemed to regard fundraising as an afterthought. Shays refused to attack until it was almost too late.

But it is Babbitt, who drew 36 percent of the vote, who proved to be a stunningly inept candidate. Even the low-energy Miller was a charisma poster boy compared to Babbitt, who was likable but both sleepy and in over his head in a Congressional race.

Most Noteworthy Hair
• Democrat Capri Cafaro in Ohio’s 14th
• Rep. Martin Frost (D-Texas) in the 32nd
• Republican Geoff Davis in Kentucky’s 4th
• Republican Mike Miller in the Alaska Senate race

Cafaro has hair. Lots of hair. I means, lots and lots of hair. Years ago, I suggested that Frost lose the comb-over. He did, but now he lost his race. Am I to blame? Davis had a mustache last cycle and lost. This cycle he shaved it, and he won. Message to Miller: Not all facial hair is dense enough to qualify as a beard. I’m going with Cafaro, since hair isn’t always about length and density.

I’m In, I’m Out: The Andrew Cuomo Award for Pseudo-Candidates
• Democrat Reggie Dupre in Louisiana’s 3rd
• Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) in the open-seat Senate race
• Rep. Jim Gibbons in the Nevada Senate race
• Republican Brian Kolb in New York’s 29th

Only hours after he told me he was in the race to stay, had promised a relatively easy victory and had dismissed one opponent as “Ol’ Charlie Boy” and another as “Little Billy,” DuPre suddenly dropped his bid. Foley is a strong contender, but Reggie my boy, you da winner.

Worst Name for a Candidate
• Democrat Al Weed in Virginia’s 5th
• Democrat Barack Obama in Illinois’ open-seat Senate race
• Democrat Beau Babka in Utah’s 3rd
• Democrat Mike Huckleberry in Michigan’s 4th
• Democrat Jeff Seemann in Ohio’s 16th

Obama — the self-described “skinny kid with a funny name” — by a whisker over Seemann. The good news: Even someone with a bad name can win.

Most Overhyped Candidate of 2004
• Democrat Steve Brozak New Jersey’s 7th
• Rep. Joe Hoeffel (D-Pa.) in the open-seat Senate race
• Steve Brozak
• Don Barbieri (D-Washington’s 5th)
• Steve Brozak

Barbieri received a lot of attention for a mediocre candidate. But nobody came close to Brozak, who received a wealth of national media attention, including a big piece in The Wall Street Journal, even though he had little chance of upsetting Rep. Mike Ferguson (R). All smoke, no fire, Steve.

Signed, Unsealed & Delivered: The Biggest Impact of Divorce Papers
• Democrat Blair Hull in Illinois’ open-seat Senate race
• Democrat Jack Ryan in Illinois’ open-seat Senate race
• Republican Randy Kuhl in New York’s 29th
• Democrat Cliff Oxford in Georgia’s open-seat Senate race

A tough category. Ryan gets off on a technicality. His problems resulted from custody papers — not divorce papers. Kuhl’s use of shotguns to threaten his wife is impressive, but he won. Since nobody cared about the Georgia race, the winner is Hull, who had victory in sight but imploded when his nasty comments, behavior and ex-wife came back to haunt him.

Worst Showing By a Famous Name (also known as The Scott Armey Award)
• Republican Ed Broyhill in North Carolina’s 5th
• Gary King
• Republican Mary Ose in California’s 3rd
• Republican Scott Paterno in Pennsylvania’s 17th
• Democrat Paul Babbitt in Arizona’s 1st
• Republican Brad Smith in Michigan’s 7th

All losers, so each has a claim to the title. I’d have to narrow it down to Broyhill, Ose and Smith, since they lost primaries. And since Rep. Nick Smith (R) and Rep. Doug Ose (R) are still in office, their relatives, Brad and Mary, tie for winner/loser here.

Weakest Senate Candidate of 2004
• Republican Alan Keyes in Illinois
• Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.)
• Rep. Chris John (D-La.)
• Republican Pete Coors in Colorado

Yes, Coors was a poor candidate, and Keyes’ bid was a farce (which disqualifies him from consideration). That leaves Bunning and John. Bunning nearly snatched defeat from the jaws of victory against an underfunded, lightly regarded challenger, even as he ran in a state that has been moving consistently toward the GOP.

But at least he won. John, who had Sen. John Breaux (D-La.) doing everything he could for the Congressman, couldn’t even force a runoff and was widely criticized for running an uninspiring campaign.

Scariest Candidate
• Rep. Mac Collins (R-Ga.) in the open-seat Senate race
• Democrat Kalyn Free Oklahoma’s 2nd
• Republican Vernon Robinson in North Carolina’s 5th
• Democrat James Socas in Virginia’s 10th
• Republican Jeff Fortenberry in Nebraska’s 1st

An eclectic list. Collins seems just plain mean, while Free seems really, really angry about how the White Man, particularly Christopher Columbus, treated American Indians. Fortenberry won a seat in Congress despite his seeming paranoia that I was out to trap him in my meeting with him. (I wasn’t.) Socas took himself way, way too seriously.

Free would win this category easily most cycles, but face it, Robinson will do and say anything to get elected. On a Scariness Scale of 1 (low) to 10 (the highest), Vernon is a 14.

Surprise, Surprise! Candidates Whose Campaigns Exceeded My Expectations
• Democrat Erskine Bowles in North Carolina’s open-seat Senate race
• Democrat Inez Tenenbaum in South Carolina’s open-seat Senate race
• Democrat Nick Clooney in Kentucky’s 4th district
• Democrat Jeff Smith in Missouri’s 3rd

Remember, it’s not whether you win. It’s how you play the game. Good game, guys!

Worst Decision to Run
• Rep. Denise Majette (D-Ga.) for Senate
• Republican Richard Ziser in Nevada’s Senate race
• Alan Keyes

Oy. What was Majette thinking? On second thought, I don’t want to know. She’s my choice.

Time to Call It Quits? The Candidate We Hope We’ve Seen the End Of
• Republican Duane Sand in North Dakota’s At-Large race
• Granny D in New Hampshire’s Senate race
• Republican Bill Federer in Missouri’s 3rd
• Republican Marvin Scott in Indiana’s Senate race
• Republican John Cox Illinois’ open-seat Senate race

All of the above (and Vernon Robinson too).

Come Back Soon, Y’hear? Losers I Liked
• Republican Brian Hamel Maine’s 2nd
• Democrat Joe Torsella in Pennsylvania’s 13th
• Democrat Joe Donnelly in Indiana’s 2nd
• Jack Ryan
• Republican Nancy Naples in New York’s 27th

I wish all Members of Congress were as good as these unsuccessful candidates. Naples and Ryan tie as my favorites.

Oh, It Hurts So Bad: The Biggest Loser of ’04
• George Soros
• Michael Moore
• Bob Shrum
• France

From time to time, even I can’t make a selection.

Best Campaign of 2004
• Rep. Brad Carson (D-Okla.) in the open-seat Senate race
• Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska)
• Kentucky Rep. Anne Northup (R) in the 3rd district
• President Bush (R)
• Connecticut Rep. Rob Simmons (R) in the 2nd district
• Democrat Melissa Bean in Illinois’ 8th district

I can make a case for each of their efforts. But weak job approval ratings and horrible news should have combined to defeat Bush. Only a terrific campaign — the best campaign of the cycle — could have won him another term.

Good-Looking Pols
• Republican John Thune in South Dakota’s Senate race
• Democrat Lisa Quigley in California’s 20th
• Democrat Jim Stork Florida’s 22nd
• Democrat Joe Driscoll in Pennsylvania’s 15th
• Rep. Stephanie Herseth (D-S.D.)

I’ll let readers make their own choices, but can someone tell me when South Dakota became the state of The Beautiful People?

Lamest Rothenberg Column of 2004
• “The last one”
• “This one”
• “The next one”
• “Pick one, they’re all pretty lame”
• “One? You mean I can pick only one?”

Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.

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