The man who wasn’t there

Politics and other mistakes
By AL DIAMON  |  July 18, 2007

Imagine you’re a Republican candidate for Congress in Maine’s 1st District whose name isn’t Charlie Summers. Now, imagine you’re a loser.

But, as Mark Twain once noted in a similar context, I repeat myself.

For Summers to fall short of victory in the GOP primary next June, he’d have to screw up big time on the campaign trail. Which isn’t likely, not because Summers is such an adept politician, but because he won’t be on that trail.

In a strategic move Karl Rove wishes he’d thought of, Summers will be in Iraq, on active duty as a lieutenant commander in the Naval Reserve until well after the 2008 nominee is chosen.

How will his potential primary rivals respond?

Will Steve Abbott, a top aide to US Senator Susan Collins, volunteer for deployment to Afghanistan? Could Dean Scontras, a York County cyber-success, cough up enough cash to spend time on the international space station? Is Jonathan Courtney, a state senator from Springvale, preparing to parachute into Darfur? Can Darlene Curley, the GOP’s unsuccessful candidate in 2006, get herself posted to the Korean demilitarized zone? What if Phil Harriman — wait, does Phil Harriman even exist? Or is he just a name the Associated Press uses to fill out lists of potential candidates?

Seriously (well, sorta), Summers starts the race with a nearly insurmountable advantage: He won’t be around to bore people. His wife, Ruth, will stand in for him in debates, and Summers’s rivals will have to be careful about criticizing her. Or him through her. Republican voters won’t take kindly to negative comments made by desperate competitors about a guy who’s overseas putting his life on the line to keep terrorists at bay.

What could they say? He doesn’t shop locally?

Summers will be making his purchases in Baghdad’s Green Zone, which is probably no more dangerous than any meth-infected slum in the United States. Except for the mortars.

He’ll be serving with Naval Strategic Communications, which could be important if global warming results in Iraq acquiring a coastline. Except Republicans don’t believe in global warming.

With a little luck, nobody will notice those incongruities, and Summers will return to Maine late next summer to celebrate his primary win and prepare for the fall campaign. That’s a race in which he won’t have his wife to run interference. And one in which he’ll have to confront competition that won’t be hesitant to criticize the war.

Summers’s desk job in ’Dad might convince GOP voters he’s the second coming of John Wayne, but Democrats and independents who dominate 1st District politics will be a harder sell. To woo them, he’s promised to make energy independence the focus of his campaign.

“It’s the critical issue of our generation,” said Summers — who doesn’t belong to my generation — at the announcement of his candidacy on July 3. “It relates not only to our economic security but to our national security.”

Energy independence is one of those slippery concepts that everyone supports because everyone defines it differently. Liberals think it means conservation, windmills, and tiny carbon footprints all over their unvarnished floors made of recycled cellulose. Conservatives think it means burning more coal, building more nukes, and sucking all the oil we can get out of Iraq before rampant instability makes that impossible. Normal people think it means much the same as promises of balanced budgets, lower taxes, and technological advances derived from the alien spacecraft that crashed in Roswell.

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