Gail Collins: Stand by - you may need to run for the Senate

By GAIL COLLINSSeptember 2, 2013 

It is time to start thinking about running for the U.S. Senate. Allow me to explain.

There are no major congressional elections this fall, except that one lone Senate special election in New Jersey, where Cory Booker is facing The Person Running Against Cory Booker. We need to look forward to 2014. There are already some exciting races shaping up, like the one in Kentucky where Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is battling for his survival with the help of a campaign manager who admits having said he was "sort of holding my nose" to stay in McConnell's corner.

And we really cannot get enough of the Wyoming Republican Senate primary, where incumbent Mike Enzi is being challenged by Dick Cheney's daughter Liz. When we last checked, Cheney was engulfed in a major controversy about whether she had lived in Wyoming long enough to qualify for a resident's fishing license.

And then there are other states where nobody is running at all. For instance, Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson is retiring in South Dakota, and his party seems to be having a hell of a time just finding a serious nominee. (Democratic position: "We are aggressively recruiting in South Dakota and plan on being competitive there.")

The cupboard is also sort of bare in Montana, where Sen. Max Baucus is retiring. But not in West Virginia. This is Sen. Jay Rockefeller's seat, and for a long while it looked as if nobody in the entire state was interested in being the Democratic nominee to replace him. But now the party may have a promising volunteer in the form of Natalie Tennant, who is both the secretary of state and the former mascot of the West Virginia University football team.

Happily, being the West Virginia mascot does not involve jumping around at games dressed like a gopher or a frog or the Fighting Okra. WVU's mascot is "The Mountaineer," who looks like Daniel Boone or Davy Crockett. Tennant in 1990 was the first woman ever to have the job. "People would throw cups at her. They would chant: 'We don't want a mountain deer. Bring us back our Mountaineer,'" the campus mascot adviser once told a local magazine.

This is currently my favorite story about the 2014 Senate races, and I am now putting West Virginia on the list of States to Watch. On the other hand, we have many states to be ignored, because they have strong incumbent senators who show no sign of going away. If you have nothing to do for the next year or so, keep an eye on those races. If an opposition candidate fails to materialize, you may want to consider volunteering. In some cases, you can do this from the comfort of your living room. Back in 2010 William Bryk, a bankruptcy lawyer from Brooklyn who had never been west of Buffalo, declared his candidacy to run against Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo because nobody else seemed to be interested.

"I'm not the most partisan of Democrats, but I do believe the second party is at least obliged to show the flag," Bryk said in an interview.

A number of states simply require you to fill out a form to run for office, and you don't have to be a resident until the day of the election. It appears to be way harder to get a fishing license in Wyoming than to be a candidate for Senate in Idaho.

Bryk ran on a platform that came down to "If Elected, I Will Move." After an Idaho businessman jumped into the race, Bryk lost the primary by a spread of about 3-1. He was extremely gracious in defeat. "My opponent is an intelligent, articulate and attractive man and I've never been to Idaho," he told FoxNews.com in a concession statement.

The Democrats say they would have gotten a candidate on their own. "That's fine that he was on a mission to encourage people to run but it certainly didn't factor into Idaho politics," said Dean Ferguson, the state party communications director.

Idaho's other Republican senator, Jim Risch, is up for re-election next year and Ferguson says he is confident there will be a candidate running against him, as well as an extremely strong nominee opposing Gov. Butch Otter. That is not really to the point of our current subject, but I always enjoy writing "Gov. Butch Otter."

Here's your mission, people. Start to check out the Senate races -- there are going to be 35 next year, and 10 or 12 might involve real competition. You may want to send a few of the candidates donations -- control of Congress hangs in the balance. The rest of the pack aren't going to require much attention. Unless, of course, one of the parties doesn't seem prepared to produce a nominee. Then you know what you have to do.

Gail Collins is a columnist for The New York Times.

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