US & Canada

US elections 2010: Craziest campaign moments

There are few more compelling political spectacles than an American election. It seems that each cycle, the public is treated to more and more entertaining gaffes, one-liners and downright strange behaviour.

It's hard to forget John Kerry wind surfing or Michael Dukakis's adventures in an armoured tank. Sarah Palin's joke in 2008 about the difference between a pit-bull and a hockey mom (lipstick) was rated hilarious by some and cringe-inducing by others.

But have this year's political antics reached a new level of craziness?

Here are nine memorable moments.

1. Dabbling in Witchcraft

When Tea Party-backed Christine O'Donnell roared on to the political scene in September, she seemed like a fresh new face. But she had a past - and it came back to haunt her.

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Media captionChristine O'Donnell reacts after her 1999 witchcraft comments were rebroadcast

Over the years, it turned out, Ms O'Donnell had made several eyebrow-raising comments, usually in her capacity as a religious campaigner for socially conservative causes.

She railed against masturbation, which she equated with adultery, alleged that scientists were breeding mice with human brains, claimed evolution was a myth and said she had heard the voice of God in a previous run for the Senate.

She also told a satirical television show in the 1990s that she had "dabbled in witchcraft". The clip sparked a firestorm, which Ms O'Donnell tried to turn to her advantage, running a TV commercial where she stated: "I'm not a witch, I'm you."

2. Aqua Buddha

Image caption Kentucky's Senate candidates did shake hands at their final debate

Another Tea Party-backed candidate, Rand Paul, made headlines when he defeated the Republican Party's preferred candidate for Kentucky's open Senate seat. But his alleged pranks as a college student have also brought him much publicity.

In a GQ magazine profile, a female former classmate of Mr Paul's alleges that he and a friend kidnapped her, tied her up, forced her to smoke pot and to worship a fake god they called Aqua Buddha. Mr Paul and his friend were supposedly part of NoZe, a secret, irreverent society known for crude jokes and mocking Christianity.

Mr Paul of course denied the story, but that didn't stop his Democratic opponent, Jack Conway, from running a tough campaign ad based on the story which questioned Mr Paul's values and faith.

In the end, this ad backfired on Mr Conway. A new poll shows just 15% of Kentucky voters think the ad was "appropriate". Having closed the gap with Mr Paul, Mr Conway is now trailing him again in the polls by double figures.

3. 'Shove it, Obama'

Rhode Island is a reliably Democratic state in presidential elections but it has had its fair share of Republican governors. Perhaps it's not so surprising then that this year the Democratic candidate for Governor Frank Caprio is trying to distance himself from Barack Obama.

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Media captionDemocratic gubernatorial candidate Frank Caprio tells Obama to 'shove' his endorsement

What is perhaps surprising was his choice of words. Mr Caprio told a local radio station that Mr Obama could "take his endorsement and really shove it" after the president didn't formally endorse him during a recent campaign stop in the state.

Senior Obama Adviser David Axelrod told a cable news show that Mr Caprio had called the White House seeking an endorsement several weeks before the comments, but had been told that the Mr Obama was staying on the sidelines because of his friendship with the independent candidate in the race, former Senator Lincoln Chafee.

4. 'You look Asian to me'

For political satirists, Nevada's Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle is a veritable treasure trove. Running in a tight race against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the Tea Party favourite is one of the most closely watched candidates in the country.

Image caption Polls show Sharron Angle in a statistical tie with Harry Reid

She has made her fair share of gaffes. She claimed two US towns were operating under Sharia law, mocked the idea that autism should be covered by health insurance, and once advocated a programme of massages and saunas for drug-addicted prison inmates.

But it's her immigration politics that have caused the biggest stir in the heavily Hispanic state. Asked at a high school why her anti-immigration ads seemed to cast Latinos in a negative light, she replied that she wasn't sure if the actors were supposed to be Latino.

"I don't know that all of you are Latino," she continued before the largely Hispanic crowd. "Some of you look a little more Asian to me."

5. Handcuffing a reporter

Several candidates this year are furiously avoiding reporters. Christine O'Donnell has denied nearly all media requests. So too has Sharron Angle, whose campaign was recently involved in a bizarre incident where decoys were apparently used to allow Ms Angle to escape waiting reporters.

But it is in Alaska, where the oddest incident occurred.

After a campaign event at a local high school, security guards hired by Tea Party favourite Joe Miller intercepted local reporter Tony Hopfinger, who says he was trying to ask the candidate a question. Mr Miller had earlier stated he would no longer answer media questions about his past.

The guards say Mr Hopfinger was aggressively pursuing the candidate. Mr Hopfinger says the guards encircled him, threateningly, and he tried to push one away. At any rate, the guards slapped handcuffs on the reporter until police arrived at the scene and released him.

6. Scratch and sniff

Image caption Loretta Sanchez is accused of stinking like Washington

A congressional campaign in California is possibly the first to exploit not only the senses of sight and hearing, but also smell.

Incumbent Loretta Sanchez first caused a stink by telling Spanish language television that "the Vietnamese" were trying to take her seat away. Her Republican opponent Van Tran was born in Vietnam.

Mr Tran retaliated with an inventive piece of campaign mail containing a "scratch and sniff" panel that gives off a foul odour.

"Something smells rotten about Loretta," the mailer reads. "It's the stench of Washington."

7. New York, New York

Image caption Mr Paladino and Mr McMillan have made the New York Governor's race a lively one

The race to be governor of New York has provided a number of dramatic and controversial moments, some of them courtesy of Republican candidate Carl Paladino.

Mr Paladino at one point threatened to "take out" a reporter, after a heated discussion about Mr Paladino's mistress and their daughter.

Then he told a group of Orthodox Jews that he didn't want his children "brainwashed" into thinking that homosexuality was a valid lifestyle choice.

He also told NBC's Today programme that New York's gay pride parade was a "disgusting" event where men in "little Speedos... grind against each other". He insists he is not homophobic and it was later revealed that he had for years rented properties to gay nightclubs.

But at New York's gubernatorial debate, even the hot-tempered Mr Paladino was upstaged by a fiery candidate from "The Rent is Too Damn High" party - a handlebar-moustache sporting, glove-wearing karate instructor who cited his party's slogan nine times during the evening.

Jim McMillan's performance has gone viral, inspiring a Saturday Night Live sketch and a toy action figure.

8. Dress up

Rich Iott, the Republican candidate for Ohio's ninth District, used to be part of a World War II reenactment group.

That wouldn't be so bad, except Mr Iott used to dress up as a Nazi, playing the role of a feared Schutzstaffel secret service agent.

9. Alvin Greene

Image caption A hip-hop homage to Mr Greene has gone viral

Primary elections often throw up unexpected results - but few are as unexpected as the election of Alvin Greene as the Democratic Party's candidate for the South Carolina Senate seat.

Mr Greene, an unemployed 33-year-old former serviceman, was unknown to the local Democratic Party establishment and appeared to have done no campaigning, but nonetheless won 59% of the vote, defeating former circuit court judge Vic Rawl.

The day after winning the primary, Mr Greene was indicted on obscenity charges for allegedly showing a pornographic image to a female college student and suggesting they go to her room.

His campaign continues unabated though, with policy ideas including stimulating the economy by manufacturing a doll of himself. A hip-hop homage to Mr Greene has also gone viral.