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Originally published Friday, August 27, 2010 at 3:41 PM

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In the dog days of summer, some lighter political fare

Since it has been a fairly depressing month of news, columnist Gail Collins chimes in with a look at the brighter side of the nation's political culture.

Syndicated columnist

Since this is possibly the most depressing August in the history of summer, I feel compelled to point out a brighter side of the news.

In Arizona on Tuesday, Republican voters totally rejected the congressional candidacy of state Sen. Pamela Gorman ("conservative Christian and a pretty fair shot"), whose TV ad showed her firing a machine gun at an undisclosed target. Only about 5,000 people in the district thought sending Pamela Gorman to Washington would be a good plan. And it was 110 degrees that day, so a number of those might have been hallucinating.

The winner of this primary was Ben Quayle, son of Dan and Marilyn, whose campaign was flagging until his parents each sent out e-mail blasts urging people to vote for their son. That put him over the top with a whopping 14,266 votes.

Quayle may have been the beneficiary of a notable trend in this week's elections: victories by people whose mothers helped them campaign. Rick Scott, the rich-guy gubernatorial candidate in Florida, won a surprise upset after he sent his mother to represent him in the final debate. Clearly, the voters were thinking that being forced to listen to another debate would be bad, that mothers were good, and therefore Scott deserved to be the Republican nominee for governor.

We do not pay much attention to races for governor in any state other than our own. But it's going to be hard to resist watching to see if Florida wants to put its fate in the hands of a guy who looks like Lex Luthor and once ran a company that admitted defrauding the government of $1.7 billion. It's right up there with the machine-gun woman.

The big trend among Republicans is voting out the incumbent, even if said incumbent is a Republican. In their primaries, the Democrats tend to go for the status quo. This makes sense, since the Republicans are looking for a way to show they're angry, angry, angry while the Democrats are too terrified of the Republicans to do anything but hunker down.

In response, the Republican establishment is in identity denial. John Boehner is vowing that if his party wins a majority in the House, he will run things differently than either Nancy Pelosi or her Republican predecessor, the evil dictator John Boehner. And of course, Sen. John McCain just notched up a triumph in Arizona, running against Sen. John McCain.

The Democrats aren't much better — unless you think it's a good plan for Robin Carnahan, the Democratic candidate for Senate in Missouri, to be calling her opponent "the very worst of Washington" for supporting the same financial services bailout that President Barack Obama and most of the Democrats in Congress backed. Really, the way these people are fleeing their parties, you'd almost think neither side has any clue of what to do to resuscitate the economy.

Instead of running as part of a group with a shared ideology and agenda, candidates run biography ads that stress their sterling character. A deprived childhood is always good. Kendrick Meek, the Democratic nominee for Senate in Florida, ran as the son of a struggling single mother even though his particular single mother was also the local congresswoman. And did you know John Boehner used to mop the floor of his dad's bar when he was 11?

This stuff is completely useless for the voters, since party affiliation is actually the only reliable indicator of how a candidate will behave in office. TV ads about prior achievements and moral integrity will tell you virtually nothing about what someone will do once they're elected. I speak from experience, as a person who voted for Eliot Spitzer for governor.

And of course we have the general nasty-tone trend, as evidenced by the way Republicans desperate for an applause line grab onto the "mosque at Ground Zero." This kind of thing gets worst in August when, absent a good hurricane, the media have very little to talk about. I blame the failure of celebrities to melt down when we need them most. If only Al and Tipper Gore were getting divorced because Tipper fell in love with Tiger Woods. Or if the woman who got caught putting a cat in a garbage can had been American. Really, anything about cats is good.

Maybe the citizenry should demand a Voter Bill of Rights.

Article One: Freedom from being forced to choose between two dreadful candidates when the temperature is higher than 90 degrees.

Article Two: Candidates cannot talk about their childhood beyond attesting that they had one.

Article Three: Candidates are required to list all the really serious issue disagreements they have with their party. If they reach six, they should find a different ticket.

Article Four: Less talking about mosques.

Article Five: More cat stories.

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

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