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The silly, sleazy season

RALEIGH — In political circles, the time of year is known as silly season.

It’s hard to imagine it getting any sillier.

Angry candidates, smarting over incendiary ads, threaten lawsuits. They run from past words about this issue or that, saying they were misquoted or misunderstood. Meanwhile, court and administrative rulings mean that Osama bin Laden or the Mullah Omar could be pouring money into U.S. election campaigns and no one would be the wiser.

Out on the campaign trail, candidates of all stripes talk about ethics or restoring values in America, as if anyone who could win office after running such a gantlet could have the slightest notion of such things.

Here in North Carolina, a Republican state Senate candidate filed a defamation lawsuit against Democratic state Sen. A.B. Swindell after a campaign mailer brought up 20-year-old drug charges against the challenger. The charges against Eldon “Buck” Newton were later dismissed after a prosecutor said they came about due to mistaken identity.

“This case illustrates the absolute worst in bitter, underhanded, partisan gutter politics,” Newton’s lawyer said.

We could hope that’s the case, but I’m not counting on it. There are still five weeks left before Election Day.

Another state Senate race is also leading to some entertaining finger-pointing. The state Democratic Party filed a complaint against Republican Wes Meredith of Fayetteville after his landscaping company began running TV ads that sounded a lot like campaign ads.

His Democratic opponent, incumbent Sen. Margaret Dickson, then made reference to a voter fraud investigation looking at an earlier Meredith campaign for city council. Meredith and the state Republican Party cried foul, threatening to sue Dickson and the Democratic Party.

Well, judges do seem to enjoy messing around with electoral politics. Maybe the courts could cut out the middleman – the voter – and enter a judgment in this race.

Meredith might not fare so well, though. Dickson’s husband is a judge.

In the U.S. Senate race, incumbent Republican Richard Burr isn’t for privatizing Social Security this week and Democratic challenger Elaine Marshall isn’t for raising the retirement age this week.

Any comments to the contrary that either may have made in the past should be ignored, at least until after Nov. 2. Thank you, voters, now return to normal programming.

With the election nearing, grassroots groups — the result of spontaneous, neighborhood uprisings — will be tooling through town in expensive, bright-colored buses emblazoned with catchy slogans.

The latest is something called Spending Revolt. Please ignore the Washington addresses of all the organizers. This is grassroots in action and a nonpartisan effort. Really, it is.

Watching the campaign season unfold, it’s easy to believe that you’ve sat down in front of another episode of really bad reality TV.

I just can’t figure out whether it would better to have an English nanny beat some manners into the candidates or ship them all off to a desert island for three months without food or shelter.

Scott Mooneyham writes about North Carolina politics for the Capitol Press Association.

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