Gail Collins / Rules to run by

Politicians keep finding new ways to self-destruct

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The 2014 election year is just kicking into gear, but we’ve learned so much already. Among the political pointers for candidates of the future:

• Do not attempt to curry favor with the voters by changing your name.

Scott Fistler tried to improve his extremely remote chance of winning the Democratic congressional nomination in a largely Hispanic Arizona district by legally changing his name to Cesar Chavez. After a relative of the deceased farm labor leader filed a complaint, Fistler/​Chavez was thrown off the ballot. The disappointed ex-candidate told reporters that politics is “a vicious game.”

• … although it’s totally fair to go with the one you’ve already got.

Beleaguered Democrats in Texas are nurturing at least faint hopes for their attorney general candidate, Sam Houston. “I try not to be so cynical to think that people just go in and vote for a name,” Mr. Houston said.

• Try not to run ads with photos of local residents who are actually Parisian office workers.

Mike Rounds, a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in South Dakota, unveiled a video in which he bragged about how much the rest of the country could learn from the folks who live in his state. It was illustrated with stock photos of models portraying wholesome average citizens, one of whom turned out to be a woman holding a pen in an office in Paris.

• … or with European coal miners.

Alison Grimes, the Democratic Senate candidate in Kentucky, sent reporters copies of an ad she planned to run expressing her wrath at President Barack Obama’s new clean air rules and showing an angry-looking miner. The man was actually a Ukrainian model holding up a piece of coal. Grimes campaign aides said they had discovered the problem themselves and replaced it with a picture of an American model holding up a piece of coal.

• … or maybe you should just take the pictures yourself.

Joni Ernst, the Republican Senate candidate in Iowa, became famous for her video bragging that she had spent her youth on a farm castrating hogs. She urged voters to watch the video in a posting that featured a stock photo of a pig from Denmark.

• Try not to compare things to slavery.

Dr. Ben Carson, up-and-coming star of the GOP right wing, spent a good part of the season denying that he had compared the Affordable Care Act to African-American enslavement. When all he actually said was that Obamacare is “the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery, and … it is slavery in a way because it is making all of us subservient to the government.”

• … or spousal abuse.

Sarah Palin, calling for the impeachment of the president, said the influx of young illegal immigrants over the southern border “is the last straw that makes the battered wife say, ‘no mas.’ ”

• Have a staff aide explain how people can take videos of you talking to private groups even when you’re totally off the record.

At a fundraiser in Texas, Bruce Braley, a candidate for the Senate in Iowa, got caught warning a group of well-to-do trial lawyers that if Democrats don’t keep control of the Senate, the Judiciary Committee would be run by “a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school.”

• Watch it when you bring up people’s sexual preference.

Texas governor and potential presidential candidate Rick Perry said people could decide whether or not they wanted to be homosexual just as “I may have the genetic coding that I’m inclined to be an alcoholic, but I have the desire not to do that.”

• If you can’t say anything nice …

Eric Cantor used part of his vast pile of campaign cash to launch a series of attack ads against his totally unknown primary opponent in Virginia. Mr. Cantor’s constituents were surprised and delighted to hear there was actually someone running against him and promptly voted the House majority leader out of office.

• … really, stop advertising. A new report from the Brookings Institution suggests higher spending on anti-Obamacare ads may lead to higher Obamacare enrollment.

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



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