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Quick shots: California dreamin' in 2010

  • John Avlon: Campaign 2010 is dominated by extreme messages
  • Avlon says witchcraft, other fringe subjects distract from the real issues
  • Ruben Navarrette Jr: GOP thinks Tea Party enthusiasm can win for Republicans in California
  • He says Republicans aren't fired up over moderates Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina

Editor's note: There are 15 days to go before voters cast ballots in the hotly contested midterm elections. In this special feature, CNN's political contributors share their quick thoughts on what's making news.

John P. Avlon is a CNN contributor and senior political columnist for The Daily Beast. He is the author of "Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe Is Hijacking America."

Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a nationally syndicated columnist, an NPR commentator and a regular contributor to

Avlon: Extreme issues dominate midterm debate


Witches, "whore-gate" and legalized marijuana -- these are the terms of the debate in the last weeks of election 2010. They are not considerably more surreal than the conversations about Nazis and Communists and undermining the Constitution that have characterized whole campaigns and angry populist appeals this year.

These distractions and divisions miss the real challenges our nation faces. When Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown met to debate their plans for the future of our largest, most broke and most dysfunctional state, they spent much of their time talking about "whore-gate" -- questioning which Brown aide called Whitman a whore in a recorded conversation.

This followed "nanny-gate," which focused on Whitman's employment of a housekeeper who was an illegal immigrant. These tabloid scandals don't have anything to do with saving the once-great Golden State -- and Californians deserve better.

But candidates who offer sensational attacks and scandal have been able to dominate the debates this year, rewarded with media attention and campaign cash. Nevada Tea Party Senate candidate Sharron Angle raised an astounding $14 million last quarter from national activists excited by her extremism as she campaigns to unseat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Christine O'Donnell and Reps. Michele Bachmann and Alan Grayson have likewise been rewarded for their hyper-partisan approach to public office.

The incentive system in our politics is broken -- candidates are being rewarded for extremism and the politics of incitement, both in closed partisan primaries and the cash that flows into the general election. But responsibility is the key characteristic of governing -- and if we hope to overcome the challenges we face as a nation, we need to reward candidates who practice the politics of problem-solving.

Navarrette: Why California may skip the Tea Party


What if most of the country threw a Tea Party, and California didn't show up?

Last week, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele visited the Golden State and urged more than 2,000 supporters in Orange County to keep up their enthusiasm.

Republicans must really think they can win everywhere. Yet, with California, they're dreamin'. Even in a year where Republicans are poised to make big gains in Congress, this blue state is only turning deep blue.

Rasmussen Reports finds Democrat Jerry Brown leading Republican Meg Whitman in the governor's race, 50 percent to 44 percent. Democrat Barbara Boxer leads Republican Carly Fiorina in the U.S. Senate race, 49 percent to 46 percent.

Part of the problem is the California Republican Party, which doesn't know whether to go left, right or center.

Whitman and Fiorina both come from the GOP's moderate wing. And so, the Republican voters who are most fired up for a GOP landslide are also the least excited about voting for them. Some of them probably would prefer to be voting for the hard-core conservative candidates who washed out in the primary. But in California, Republicans don't make it this far unless they travel down the middle of the road.

That's where Democrats usually find them -- and stampede over them.

The opinions expressed in these commentaries are solely those of the authors.