Democrats are, as Jennifer noted, rapidly coming to understand that the proportions of the Republican wave this fall may turn out to swamp not only incumbents in competitive districts but also those once thought safe. Voters have had enough of taxes and spending and deficits and are profoundly dissatisfied with the Obama administration. But even in the midst of what may prove to be an unprecedented midterm tsunami, there are races that will prove that no matter how angry voters may be, there are limits to what they will accept from insurgents seeking their votes.
One obvious example is the unelectable Christine O’Donnell in Delaware. But as frustrating as that lost opportunity for a Senate seat may be for the national GOP, the spectacle of their party’s New York gubernatorial nominee is even more embarrassing.
Carl Paladino won the New York GOP primary over Rick Lazio because he presented a well-funded alternative to a retread that had no pulse and no chance to tap into the vein of voter anger that has generated the Tea Party revolution. Paladino’s bull-in-the-china-shop personality seemed perfectly suited to the 2010 election. The thinking here was that if he could sustain his momentum with attacks on his liberal-establishment opponent in Andrew Cuomo, it was just possible that the real estate mogul could make this Blue State competitive. And some polls taken in September showed that this might be happening.
Yet what this races teaches is that it even angry voters are unprepared to elect a man who is not cool under fire and devoid of judgment as well as what Main Street America used to consider common decency. With the media spotlight shining on him in the aftermath of his stunning primary victory and polls showing him to be closing the gap with Cuomo, Paladino quickly came undone. Reacting to the coverage of the revelations about his fathering an out-of-wedlock child (not all of which was unsympathetic, as the candidate’s wife was trotted out to defend her husband and the notion of a blended, if unorthodox, family group), the nominee physically threatened a reporter and then began to make unsubstantiated charges about his opponent’s personal life. While trying to pose as the victim of a prurient media, he engaged in personal slanders that made the coverage of his own life look tame. Then he used a speech before an Orthodox Jewish congregation in Brooklyn to make remarks that went beyond opposition to gay marriage and were easily construed as homophobic.
Paladino defends himself as a man who doesn’t bother with political correctness. But the pattern of his behavior in the past few weeks is more of an out-of-control blowhard who has no respect for anyone or anything. The result is that his standing in the polls has plunged, which has also damaged the already shaky chances of GOP Senate candidate Joseph DioGuardi, who is running against the vulnerable Kirsten Gillibrand.
The lesson here is that the electorate expects candidates for high office to more or less behave themselves. Rather than acting like a governor, Paladino has comported himself like the kind of guy who gets thrown out of bars for disorderly behavior. And even angry voters draw the line at electing someone like that to high office.