Full-blown political mania has seized the country just two weeks before an election that seems certain to dramatically reshape both the agenda and the personalities in the nation's capital.
Across the country, candidates are almost frantically careering toward the finish line, sometimes humorously and often with unintended consequences that are landing them on cable TV or making them the latest hash tag in a firestorm of Twitter messages.
This year's crop of unexpected and highly unusual candidates has contributed to an intense and sometimes bizarre political season, culminating in day after day of head-scratching "did they really say that?" moments. And with more than 100 competitive House races and a dozen or more Senate contests in play, Campaign 2010 is testing the savvy of Tea Party newcomers and the endurance of the permanent campaign establishment in Washington.
In Kentucky, the two candidates for Senate clashed angrily over the Democrat Jack Conway's charge that the Republican Rand Paul was part of a secret antireligious organization as a college student. In a debate Sunday, Mr. Paul denounced the charge and marched off at the debate's end without shaking his opponent's hand.
That too-brief summary suggested Paul was the bad actor. But a full posting by Times reporter Bernie Becker made it clear the ad is seen as a step too far even by fellow Democrats, backfiring on Conway. Besides the over-dramatic rendering of what was a stupid college prank, there's the hypocrisy of a Democrat attacking a Republican for wanting to end all faith-based initiatives - a standard liberal belief. Becker wrote:
The Conway ad that helped spark the debate dustup focuses on reports that, during Mr. Paul's time at Baylor University, he and a friend tied up a woman and told her to worship a god they called "Aqua Buddha" and that he was part of a group in college that ridiculed Christianity....As for Mr. Conway, even some Democrats are questioning his approach. Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri said on MSNBC on Monday morning that she thought the candidate's ad "came close to the line" and was "very dangerous." And Representative John Yarmuth of Kentucky told The Huffington Post that the spot looked like it was backfiring.
Shear found still more awkward incidents involving GOP candidates:
At the other end of the continent, in Alaska, security guards for the Republican Senate candidate, Joe Miller, slapped handcuffs on a blogger, despite having no authority to arrest anyone. (Sound vaguely familiar? Remember Mitt Romney's former state trooper who allegedly impersonated a state trooper in 2008?)
Shear clearly has a long memory of Republican perfidy, "alleged" or not. Meanwhile, as colleague Lachlan Markay reminded me , the Times has yet to comment on a dust-up involving liberal New York State Rep. Maurice Hinchey, who told local reporter William Kemble to "Shut up!" an outburst  captured on video, and may have physically confronted the reporter.
And in Nevada, the Republican Senate candidate, Sharron Angle - perhaps competing with herself for weirdest political moment of the campaign season - looked out at a room of Hispanic high school students and declared, "Some of you look a little more Asian to me."
One Twitter message that followed wondered: "Sharron Angle tells Hispanic students they look Asian. Can we just bet Sharron Angle on odd at a roulette wheel, and lose?"
Shear found one rather dull Democratic controversy involving a hand slap before summarizing five more controversies designed to reflect badly on the GOP, including two involving Nazis. Shear ended his report with two additional jabs at "conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh" and the "conservative blog" the Drudge Report:
If there was any brief thought that Campaign 2010 would wind up on a more graceful note, it was dashed Monday afternoon by the conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, who opened his show with an observation about wire service photographs of President Obama speaking intensely at a nighttime rally.
"These pictures, they look demonic," Mr. Limbaugh said of Mr. Obama. "And I don't say this lightly. There are a couple pictures, and the eyes, I'm not saying anything here, but just look." He added later: "An American president has never had facial expressions like this."
The Drudge Report, a conservative blog, at one point Monday evening used four of the "demonic" photos of Mr. Obama.
MRC's sister site NewsBusters documents far more vile things said on left-wing talk radio all the time, yet no one at the Times appears to notice.
- Clay Waters is director of Times Watch . You can follow him on Twitter .