Gail Collins / Of zombies and senators: Join me for a sensational tour of some Senate campaigns

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Today, 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!

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

In Utah, Democrat Scott Howell has been arguing that if the 78-year-old Sen. Orrin Hatch wins, he might "die before his term is through." Suggesting a longtime incumbent is over the hill is a venerable election technique, but you are supposed to be a little more delicate about it.

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!" Sen. Brown said brightly, in what appeared to be a stall for time. He came up with Antonin Scalia. Then, after boos from the audience, Mr. Brown added more names -- until he had picked about half the current court, from John Roberts to Sonia Sotomayor.

There are only about a dozen Senate races in which there is serious suspense about who's going to win. To the Republicans' dismay, many 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." Since then, Mr. Akin has doubled down on a claim that doctors frequently perform abortions on women who aren't pregnant.

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 Mr. Mack "a promoter for Hooters with a history of barroom brawling, altercation and road rage." Mr. Mack's fortunes have been sliding. Recently, while he was greeting voters at a cafe, one elderly couple asked him to get them a menu.

Some Democratic candidates are also turning out to be stronger than anticipated -- like Arizona's Richard Carmona, a Hispanic physician who served as surgeon general under President George W. Bush. Dr. Carmona is a Vietnam combat veteran who worked as a SWAT team leader for the Pima County Sheriff's Department. "In 1992," his campaign biography reports, "he rappelled from a helicopter to rescue a paramedic stranded on a mountainside when their medevac helicopter crashed during a snowstorm, inspiring a made-for-TV movie."

Let that be a lesson. If the Democrats in Texas had just nominated a Hispanic Vietnam combat veteran who saved crash victims and inspired a TV movie, they wouldn't have to depend on debates to get some attention.

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

Improbable candidates who don't have $70 million for ads can just cobble together something really weird, put it up on the Web and hope it goes viral.

Last time around, Carly Fiorina, who was running 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 Ms. Pelosi as the leader of a cult of zombies, preparing a lamb for sacrifice. Then Mr. Dennis breaks in, saves the lamb, calls one of the zombies "Dude," and denounces Ms. Pelosi for supporting the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens who are suspected of being terrorists.

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


Gail Collins is a syndicated columnist for The New York Times.


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