09/07/2010 08:56 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Election Season Is Now Open. Let the Games Begin

Republicans have been doing a poll dance in expectation of taking back the House and Senate in November. Yet every election cycle I write the exact same thing that always happens: the public doesn't start paying attention to elections until after Labor Day. They're on vacation, kids are out of school, some candidates have not yet even been decided. Early polls are an indication of sentiment, to be sure, but not results.

Mainly, we're seeing the honored traditional of the "out" party relentlessly bashing the "in" -
daily, unchallenged. So, of course Democratic numbers would go down. Only after Labor Day is there reason to finally respond. When the campaign begins.

(Just look at what happened in Arizona last week. Finally, the gubernatorial campaign officially started and had a debate -- and Republican Jan Brewer had an on-air meltdown, only to run away, literally, afterwards when questioned for the first time by her opponent. One debate, and already her campaign is stumbling.)

Republican poll numbers have been high all summer. But a political admonition is not to peak too early. The thing is, summer is early. Whether it's too early, that's what campaigns are for.

There's another admonition to remember. First, though, some background:

During the summer, periodic victories by "Tea Party" candidates have garnered headlines about its supposed growing power. But what we've seen are primary victories solely within the cloistered walls of the Republican Party. It's the political-equivalent of preaching to the choir.

A radical, far-right agenda that includes killing Social Security might be a winning argument in a GOP primary, but stepping outside the protection of those insulated walls and arguing the same thing to the rest of world is a completely different matter. And it risks disaster.

The party out of power during an off-year election nearly always gains seats. And Republicans will gain this year. But in their hubris, allowing the far-right to dominate their party and put up candidates so far from the mainstream they need a GPS to find it, many of them scary lunatic, Republicans took a potential wave and have poised it instead to become a trickle.

That admonition that Republicans forgot? "Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it."

Republicans got the far-right, outlandish "Tea Party" candidates they wished for. And now they have to live with the results.

Alaska Senate

When asked by CNN's John King, "Would [someone born that day] perhaps grow up in an America where there is not a federal Social Security program if you got your way?", the Republican Party's "Tea Party" nominee for Senate, Joe Miller, answered "Absolutely." Given that Alaska is the most heavily federally-subsidized state in America, the general public there might not respond well to a Senate candidate running on eliminating the most popular government program in the United States.

Nevada Senate

Republicans felt confident of defeating Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid when they thought Sue Lowden would be his opponent. But then she imploded with her chicken-based healthcare plan, and Tea Party candidate Sharron Angle won the GOP primary. What was once almost a sure victory faces defeat, as Ms. Angle talks about her candidacy being "God's plan" and her desire to eliminate the federally-funded Social Security -- and runs away from reporters.

Kentucky Senate

The Republican candidate should have been a shoe-in this year, replacing an outgoing Republican seat. But with "Tea Party" favorite Rand Paul getting the nomination and expressing his opposition to parts of the Civil Rights Act that allow discrimination in private businesses, his candidacy took such a pounding that he stopped making national TV appearances. He compounded problems by blasting the two most popular government programs, Social Security and Medicare, as "a Ponzi scheme" and "socialism" -- and wants to abolish the Department of Education. Even the most rabid conservative would acknowledge that these views are not consistent with mainstream America.

Delaware Senate

The GOP itself has finally started to get concerned. Look at efforts by the Delaware Republican Party to ward off surging Tea Party-backed candidate, Christine O'Donnell (who has argued against the sin of sex -- and masturbation) from getting their party's nomination. An official state GOP release referred to her as a "troubled perennial candidate," while conservative radio host Dan Gaffney took her on with a blistering interview over credibility issues.

This is just a small sample of the "Tea Party" group that pushed the GOP to the far-right fringes.

But it's not just these "Tea Party" candidates within their party who are causing headaches for the GOP. In the Colorado governor's race, Republican nominee Dan Meas had to back off his claim that he'd worked undercover with the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, acknowledging that the comments "might have been incorrect comments." And Republican nominee Mark Kirk was the prohibitive leader in the Illinois Senate race -- until he admitted exaggerating his military experience and honors. The race is now even.

All parties have problem candidates, Democrats included. The difference is that the Republican Party has seemingly been courting such people. It's not that they're exceptions, it's that the GOP is allowing them to lead the party's direction.

By all accounts, the Republican Party should of course pick up seats in November. There's a general unhappiness at the economic situation. But as Tip O'Neil famously said, "All politics are local." It's one thing to be generally "Unhappy," and it's another to vote for a real person actually on your ballot.

It's now past Labor Day. The campaign has now finally begun. Now, things matter. The Republican Party is telling the public that it wants to get rid of health care reform, Wall Street reform, Social Security and the 14th Amendment, and hold an avalanche of hearings.

And they got the "Tea Party" and far right fringe candidates they wanted.

Be careful what you wish for. You might not get the results you expect.