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Year of the Nutjob

Meet this election’s most, well, interesting candidates.

How does the class of 2010 stack up against its lunatic predecessor, of 1994? There are the well-known data points—Rand Paul’s alleged kidnapping of a college classmate; Sharron Angle’s assertion that there are “domestic enemies” in Congress—that suggest we’ve reached a new zenith of crazy, making Newt Gingrich’s bunch look like sensible establishmentarians by comparison. But Paul and Angle only begin to capture the strangeness of candidates out there who may soon be occupying your Capitol and governor’s mansion. Herewith, a guide to the truly special specimens.


Tenther Madness: Tom Emmer, gubernatorial candidate, Minnesota

For most Tea Partiers, reining in the federal government is an article of faith. But state Representative Tom Emmer has taken the trouble to figure out the logistics. Emmer is a “Tenther”—that is, he believes the Tenth Amendment (which reserves powers not granted to Uncle Sam for the states) should be used to nullify numerous Democratic laws. He’s also proposed some roadblocks of his own—like a state constitutional amendment that would prohibit any federal law from being enforced in Minnesota unless it’s ratified by supermajorities of the state legislature. So wary is Emmer of excessive government intervention that he’s come out for laxer drunk-driving laws, although it’s conceivable this position was partly inspired by his two previous arrests for DWI.

The Schwinn Conspiracy: Dan Maes, gubernatorial candidate, Colorado

Dan Maeshas seen the Leviathan state, and it comes in the form of shared bicycles. The local businessman and political novice made national headlines for his dire predictions that conservation measures promoted by his Democratic opponent, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, could “threaten our personal freedoms.” “At first, I thought, ‘Gosh, public transportation, what’s wrong with that, and what’s wrong with people parking their cars and riding their bikes?’” Maes said. “But if you do your homework ... you realize [the policy] is part of a greater strategy to rein in American cities under a United Nations treaty.” Maes’s spokesperson explained his boss “was trying to say” that biking initiatives are a “gateway” to abortions.

The Winking Extremist: Ken Buck, Senate candidate, Colorado

Some Tea Partiers are born believers; others are recent converts to the cause. Buck, a Princeton educated district attorney and former Justice Department lawyer, has been dubbed “Colorado’s Sharron Angle” for his Tea Party-friendly views. But his sincerity was questioned when he was caught on tape calling birthers “dumbasses.” After Tom Tancredo called President Obama the biggest threat facing America, Buck was recorded remarking, “I can’t believe that guy opened his mouth.” He apologized, explaining that the greater peril was “the progressive liberal movement that is going on in this country.”

The BP Truther: Bill Randall, House candidate, North Carolina

African American Navy veteran Bill Randall has been a hit at Tea Party rallies, defending the movement against charges of racism. But he attracted some unwelcome attention when he claimed that the Gulf oil  spill may have been the result of “some sort of collusion” between the government and BP. “Maybe they wanted it to leak, but then it got beyond what was anticipated,” he said. Randall allowed that this charge is “not based on any fact,” but he’s demanded an investigation anyway.

D-Tea Party: Tim Crawford, House candidate, Indiana

Longtime GOP congressman Dan Burton memorably shot a pumpkin in his backyard to prove that Vince Foster was murdered, but he’s no longer his district’s weirdest candidate. That would be Tim Crawford, a self-identified “conservative American” who won the Democratic nomination despite believing that “the amount of ‘big government’ existing in our nation needs to be reduced” and health care reform is “constitutionally questionable.” Some posit that, like South Carolina’s Alvin Greene, Crawford won by being first on the ballot. Whatever the explanation, he’s had a rocky campaign. At one event, he suggested homosexuality might be a mutation and struggled to explain how a bill becomes law. The 29-year-old construction estimator promised to withdraw, but later changed his mind, saying he was “flustered and felt bullied.”

Enhanced Interrogator: Allen West, House candidate, Florida

Allen West doesn’t like to back down. The former Army lieutenant colonel left the military after an interrogation in Iraq in which he threatened to kill a police officer, then fired a 9mm next to his head to make the threat credible. In his election campaign, West was chided by The Palm Beach Post for violent rhetoric, such as calling for his supporters to get out the “bayonets” and to make his opponent “scared to come out of his house.” West, who is African American, is no fan of Barack Obama either. He’s demanded to know “what passport [Obama used] to go to Pakistan” in 1981 and blasted his administration for failing to stand up to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and call him a “suck-butt fool.”

Border Bomber: Tom Mullins, House candidate, New Mexico

New Mexico is one of the states most vulnerable to global warming, but Mullins, an oil engineer, isn’t fazed by the alarming projections. Instead, he’s accused scientists of falsifying temperature records in a nefarious effort to help politicians who are attempting to regulate “the breath we exhale.” He has some unorthodox opinions about immigration, too, at one point suggesting that the U.S. should put land mines on its border with Mexico.

The Rocky Saga : Andrew Raczkowski, House candidate, Michigan

Raczkowski likes to be called Rocky and sometimes refers to himself in the third person, but Democrats know him simply as their dream opponent. A law graduate and former state representative, Rocky is the  target of a federal lawsuit which alleges his company falsified ticket sales for a motorcycle rally and concert featuring Kiss, Kenny Chesney, and Larry the Cable Guy. He has also eagerly and incoherently embraced several extreme right-wing conspiracy theories. He told one gathering: “You have a president that seems to be, um ... well ... I don’t know if he even has been born in the United States, but ... until I see a birth certificate.” He later sought to clarify his remarks to Politico: “I believe this: He is our president of the United States, he is the president of the United States, and I guess my question is ... I would love to see his birth certificate.”

God’s Operative: Ed Martin, House candidate, Missouri

Martin has a rep for fighting dirty: He was forced to resign from his job as chief of staff to former Missouri Governor Matt Blunt after trying to cover up the fact that his office had illegally used state government e-mail accounts for campaign activities. (Martin tried to discredit the government whistleblower who alerted authorities by inquiring whether he was dating anyone in the office.) Now, he’s trying to convince Missourians that Obama’s domestic agenda is a stealth assault on religious freedom. He told a right-wing radio host that Obama wants to “take away [the choice] to find the Lord.” When challenged about these remarks, he insisted that government bailouts made the demise of religious freedom “a growing concern.” 

James Downie and Alexander C. Hart are reporter-researchers at The New Republic. This article ran in the September 23, 2010 issue of the magazine.

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